Saturday, December 24, 2011

Lake Chapala's Ajijic pueblo, a photographer's delight

Ajijic's Iglesia de San Andrés.  Also known as the Parroquia, the present church was built in 1749. A hurricane destroyed the original church, which had stood since 1535, shortly after the Conquest. A Parroquia, or "parish church", is the main Catholic church in a geographic area, usually named after the patron saint of the town or village, in this case San Andrés (St. Andrew). Depending on a town's size, there may be satellite churches or chapels that are serviced by a Parroquia, as there are in Ajijic.

I took this photo during the Worldwide Photo Walk on October 1. Thousands of people in communities around the globe gathered in groups to walk around and photograph their communities. Ajijic was one of these, and about 20 or so photographers gathered in the late afternoon around the kiosco in the center of Ajijic's plaza. The idea was that everyone would submit their best photos for a world wide competition. Due to a technical glitch, my name never got properly entered, so I didn't submit my work, but I didn't really care. It was a beautiful evening, and I was joined by good friends who are fellow photographers. It seemed like a fun occasion. The photos in this posting are some of those I took during that golden fall afternoon.

Veronica and Jay, two of my favorite people in Ajijic. Veronica is Mexican and Jay is from the US. Both are photographers, but Jay is a professional, and a true artist. They live together and operate a photographic gallery called Studio 18 on Calle Colon, just south of the Plaza on the way to the Ajijic Pier. Veronica is a remarkable young woman, not only lovely and sweet but smart and ambitious. She taught herself English so she could sell real estate to the many foreigners who come here. She has done remarkably well, even in Lake Chapala's extremely difficult real estate market. Jay is gifted with a camera. He captures not only the beauty of people and places, but often the humor of a situation. For a look at some of Jay's work, click here.

Exotica Bar, over the Jardin Restaurant at the Plaza. Frankly, I was dubious that there might be anything interesting on the route we were to take that I hadn't shot several times before. I was prepared to enjoy an afternoon simply hanging out with friends. To my surprise, I found lots of photographic subjects, some new since I had last wandered the area with a camera, and some things I had just never noticed before. Photography is like that. It forces you to really look at your world. In the photo above, I was initially attracted by the flags, Canadian, Mexican, and US. They are nicely framed by the steep, jungly mountains that abruptly rise a few blocks north of the Plaza. Then I noticed the row of drain spouts on the right, each surmounted with a ceramic lizard. I am really more of a photojournalist than an artist like Jay, and I like to use my pictures to tell a story. The shot above captures the international flavor of the area, the nature of the landscape in which we live, and the quirky art with which we are surrounded.

Sculpture/painting of egrets at the Jardin Restaurant. The artist is Bruno Mariscal, whose murals and other public art can be seen all over Ajijic. I have done some other postings showing Sr. Mariscal's work, as well as on the egrets, both Great White and Snowy, that inhabit the shores of Lake Chapala. Sr. Mariscal has perfectly captured their essence, both in motion and standing still. The Great White Egret in the foreground is actually a relief sculpture set into the painting, giving the whole work a three-dimensional appearance. The Jardin Restaurant is one of the chief "watering holes" for expats in Ajijic. If you should visit the restaurant, take a moment to closely examine Sr. Mariscal's work. I guarantee you will be impressed.

Hands up, Señor! In the Artist's Alley that connects the Plaza with Calle Marcos Castellanos, I found myself looking down the business end of a pistol gripped by Pancho Villa. Beside him stands Emiliano Zapata, another of Mexico's beloved heros from the Revolution. This is a detail from a long wall mural celebrating Mexico's Bicentennial. The Revolution began in 1910, and the War of Independence exactly 100 years before it, in 1810. Artists in Ajijic and elsewhere were encouraged to create murals and other works as part of the celebration. This mural was painted by Bruno Mariscal and includes famous figures from both events. Among them is Marcos Castellanos, a local priest who led the resistance to the siege of Mezcala Island, about 20 miles east of Ajijic, a couple of kilometers off the shore of Lake Chapala.

The colors of life in Mexico. The deep blue skies and the intense orange flowers of the Tabachin tree (Delonix regia) exemplify the wonderful colors that surround us here. When foreigners first encounter Mexican art, crafts, or textiles, they are sometimes startled, even a little put off, by the vibrant and often wildly contrasting colors. This is especially true if the objects are encountered out-of-context, perhaps in a Canadian or US gift shop. The effect can be jarring. However, a visit to the source is revealing. Mexicans create vividly colorful objects because the natural colors of Mexico are riotous. Where we live, the climate is perpetually spring, so flowers bloom year-round. Bright colors that in a north-of-the-border context would seem to clash with each other blend easily and grow around us everywhere, in gardens and in the wild.

A study in blue, found on Calle Ocampo. This is an example of a scene that one might walk by every day without a second thought. Something about the blue, almost turquoise, color caught my eye. It reminded me of the Maya Blue found in the colors of murals in ancient sites I recently visited. The twisting edge where the broken plaster ends and the brick begins reminded me of a winding river seen from a great height. The bricks themselves, covered and recovered by successive plaster layers, suggested a long history partially revealed. I also liked the way the bricks abruptly end and deep shadow begins. Had I passed this spot any other time than late afternoon, with its slanting light and deep shadows, I probably would never have noticed it.

Quetzal bird adorns a stained glass window. Another example of the lovely art one encounters at every turn in Ajijic. This one adorns the front of a house at the corner of Calles Nicolas Bravo and 16 de Septiembre. Quetzals are found in the high humid forests and woodlands of Mexico and Central America. They were considered sacred by the ancient people, and the creator god Quetzalcoatl is half Quetzal bird and half snake. The bird's feathers, especially from the long tail, were often used in the huge head dresses worn by the nobility and priests of ancient times. The Quetzal is considered so important by modern Guatemalans that they gave its name to their basic unit of currency.

Ancient pictograph symbols at the corner of Javier Mina and 16 de Septiembre. Painted symbols like these have been found in caves and on rock overhangs frequented by nomadic people beginning in the Archaic period (10,000-8,000 BC). This home was obviously decorated by someone with an interest in both art and archaeology. Many of the symbols are quite accurate in their representation of the ancient styles. As shown above, the ancient artists often painted over previous art. They also often left outlines of human hands, perhaps the signatures of the artists. Pictographs, in which the artists used paint, are not to be confused with petroglyphs, in which the artist carves into the surface of the rock.

A quiet afternoon at the corner of Javier Mina and 16 de Septiembre. I liked the way in which this corner is flattened and not right-angled, and is sheltered by the luxuriant palm. The small windows across the street are all barred, but the bars are decorative and painted a pleasing blue. This place possessed a very 19th Century feel, and I half expected a troop of mounted Mexican lancers to come clattering around the corner.

Barred window, Calle 16 de Septiembre.  I enjoy the way people here take something that could appear mundane or even ugly, and turn it into a thing of beauty. Bars on doors and windows are an unfortunate necessity here, because burglaries are common, although very few occur when people are home. However, the people who operate the many local herrerias, or iron worker shops, can turn a necessity into a work of art using nothing more than a simple sketch.

A lion's head breaks the tedium of a long blank wall, Calle 16 de Septiembre. I liked the way the setting sun cast a shadow along this wall, emphasizing the lion's wavy mane and fierce countenance.

The vaquero and the and the señorita. I couldn't tell what was being said here, so I let my imagination run with it. This fellow would no doubt like to become much better acquainted with the pretty girl whose horse he was leading through the streets. By the look of her expensive sunglasses and boots, she is probably an affluent city-girl from Guadalajara. Many Mexican tourists from that city descend upon Ajijic and other parts of Lake Chapala's north shore on the weekends, among them a lot of pretty señoritas like this. There are plenty of local cowboys who bring strings of horses into town in hopes of renting them to the visitors. Sometimes, fortune smiles.

A small vignette on Calle 16 de Septiembre. When I really pay attention, I constantly find interesting little vignettes like this one, about 1/2 way between Calles Morelos and 5 de Mayo. I was interested in the combination of aged, crumbling adobe, a porthole window, and an antique lamp, all nicely framed by brick, which is itself lit up by the rosy glow of the setting sun.

A puffy-cheeked 17th Century nobleman gazes out from an old door. There were a pair of these tall, narrow, wooden doors at the front of a house on Calle 5 de Mayo, at the corner of 16 de Septiembre. The other door had a matching face. The doors appear to be 17th Century originals, probably transplanted from some grand home elsewhere. In the 17th Century, there were few if any homes in the humble pueblo of Ajijic that could have justified a door like this. This is another example of something easily missed, unless you pay close attention to your surroundings.

Roof tiles and chimneys of the Old Posada. Clay tiles roof a local landmark called the Old Posada, a restaurant next to the Ajijic Pier at the end of Calle Morelos (also known as Calle Colon further north). Clay tiles just like these have been in use since the time of Mycenaen Greece (700 BC-650 BC) when Homer wrote his epic poem about the Siege of Troy. They became popular throughout the Mediterranean area, and were eventually brought to Nueva Hispaña from Old Spain. The condominium where we live is roofed with similar tiles. The rich and brightly contrasting colors seen here are typical of many homes and businesses in Ajijic and elsewhere in Mexico. The Old Posada itself has a long history. Hernán Cortéz awarded what is now Ajijic to his cousin, a man named Saenz (Cortés liked to keep things in the family). Saenz used the site where the Old Posada is now as a mill, and called the indigenous people to work with a trumpet made from a conch shell. The mill operated under various owners from the mid-1500s to the 1950s. Eventually it became a hotel, under the ownership of the Eager family. Later they moved the hotel further east on the lakeshore and called it the Nueva Posada. The Old Posada became a restaurant, as it is today.

Blankets and other textiles displayed in front of the Old Posada. Several local indigenous women weave these textiles, sometimes with back-strap looms, a technology that goes back thousands of years. Other pieces are woven using foot-powered looms, relatively unchanged since the Spanish introduced them into Nueva Hispaña in the 16th Century. Notice the bright, wildly contrasting colors on some pieces, a style that mimics the natural world here in Mexico. The women usually arrive in the late morning and hang their goods from the huge old eucalyptus trees that grow in front of the Old Posada, and Yves, a neighboring restaurant.

Vino Blanco waits for lunch outside Yves Restaurant. This little white burro has become the mascot of the lakefront. I've never been quite sure who owns her, since various people seem to attend to her needs. She is very gentle and affectionate, and loves to be petted and fed treats like carrots or pieces of lettuce. The purple substance on her nose is medicine for a persistent skin condition. During fiestas, she is sometimes hitched up to a small cart to pull children in the parades. On those occasions, her hooves are painted pink and she wears a gaily flowered straw hat. She seems very patient about it all. Most of the time, however, she grazes on tufts of grass beside the pier and waits for the next group of tourists to fawn over her. If her lunch is not timely, she is known to bray plaintively.

The Ajijic Pier and a tourist boat sporting a small Mexican flag. Afternoon shadows were growing long when I took this shot. This was one of those crystal-clear winter days when you can see the individual folds of the mountains 12 miles across the lake, and the golden light makes everything seem to glow.

Water sparkles as the sun drops low in the west. A fellow photographer set up her tripod to catch the light as it moved over the mountains across the lake. I decided to make her the subject of my shot. The lovely new malecon (waterfront walkway) is a real addition to Ajijic. This one and several others were built in the last couple of years. The local governments who funded the construction were probably spurred by the anticipation of tourists coming to attend the Pan-American Games, some of which were held at Lake Chapala in the last half of October in 2011.

As night falls, swallows gather on telephone lines. Jay and Veronica and I walked from the pier up to Studio 18 at dusk. As we moved up Calle Colon, the noise of birds chattering and flapping their wings attracted our attention. Overhead, hundreds of swallows were settling in for the evening on the lines. It had been a lovely day. I didn't think I had gotten very many decent shots until I downloaded to my computer that night. In the end, I was quite pleased with the results of the day.

This completes my posting. I hope you enjoyed this leisurely stroll around Ajijic as much as I did. If you'd like to leave a comment, please do so in the Comments section below, or email me directly. 

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim


  1. This was a fine post, I enjoyed the focus on the iconic Ajijic details! It is such a beautiful place.

  2. What an excellent array of photos! I've wanted to visit Ajijic for years and your images make me want to hit the road all the more! For a journalistic photographer, you are very artistic.

  3. You brought fond memories of Ajijic back to me in this post. I really enjoyed all the beautiful details of things that one often misses. I remember that little white burro when we were there several years ago visiting my husband's cousin, Kelley. I really enjoy your postings.

  4. We loved your post and the pictures are AWESOME. We are so fortunate to have you and Carol as our friends. You guys ROCK!!! Los queremos mucho, su amiga Veronica y su amigo Jay. Hasta pronto!!

  5. I really enjoyed your photos of Etzatlan, a road less traveled. I have been to Jalisco 4 times and never even heard of Etzatlan. Thanks again for the tour. I will try to visit Etzatlan on my next visit to Ajjic.

  6. Hello Jim and Carole,
    We were told by Judith to
    go to your blog, and I can't
    tell you how happy we are that
    we did! We walk past all these
    things so often, and have no
    idea what we are looking at.
    I've only clicked on ONE so far,
    so I can't wait to get back to
    the other links. Wow, we are
    so impressed with your pix and
    the history lessons,thank you
    so much. Your efforts are really
    appreciated. We are only here
    for six months, but will be back
    in October 2012. We are seriously
    thinking of selling our home
    in Portland and moving here
    permanently. We will do one more
    six month stay first.
    Ray and Gayle Alexia


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim