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AJIJIC

 

"The Place Where the Water Springs Forth"

 

In 1522, the Spanish Olid Expedition reached the eastern shores of what is today called Lake Chapala. When it arrived, its leader, Captain Avalos, met with little resistance. A royal grant from the king of Spain gave joint ownership of the area to Avalos, who was a cousin of Hernan Cortez. Soon other cousins arrived, and one of them by the name of Saenz acquired almost all of the land that is now Ajijic.

By 1530, the Saenz property was one huge hacienda. The principal crop was mescal, which was used in the making of tequila. The hills were covered with mescal plants. Coffee and corn were also planted. Later, when a tequila distillery was built, the beverage was shipped, along with the coffee, back to Spain.

A mill was constructed on top of the main Saenz residence, which is today the site of the old Posada Ajijic. The blast of a conch horn at 4 a.m. summoned the Indians to bring their corn to the mill to be ground. This mill remained in business until the 1940s.

Subsequent events were to further alter the village. When the Franciscan missionaries arrived, they gave it a patron saint, Saint Andrew. Henceforth, the village was called San Andres de Axixic. Its cobblestone streets, laid down in this period, are still in use today. Later, another grant from the king of Spain made provision for the indigenous Indians.

Ultimately, the Franciscans would completely colonize Ajijic, and in 1535 build their first monastery. During the Cristero Wars of the late 1920s, the monastery was seized by the state, and today is a private residence called Casa Los Suenos (House of Dreams).

Also in 1535, the Franciscans built a chapel and a large church. The church, destroyed by a hurricane and rebuilt some 15 years later, is in use today.
During the Porfirian Era (1875-1920), it was difficult to reach Ajijic from Chapala by land. Commerce was confined to an occasional cargo canoe coming onto the beach at the Saenz hacienda for a load of tequila or coffee beans.

In the early 1920s, the mayor of Chapala purchased the Saenz property, and renamed it Hacienda Tlacuache (the Opossum). The property is still owned by the mayor's descendants, and is now leased to dozens of individuals.

In 1925, Ajijic, with its placid ambience and mild weather, was discovered by European artists and intellectuals. Later, it became a refuge of those fleeing political persecution.

PEOPLE

"Ajijic was anciently settled by people who came from the north, and their origin is explained by a legend. There was a place called "Whiteness". It was far to the north. And from the seven caves of the place called Whiteness, seven tribes set out towards the south. The leader of the last tribe was Meci and his peoplecalled themselves "Mecitin". All of the seven tribes came from Aztlan (which is Whiteness in the Nahuatl tongue) and all the seven tribes were called Azteca, the people of Whiteness.

They came down from Aztlan and wandered southward with many stops, deviations and adventures. This migration was probrably taking place in the second half of the 11th and the first half of the 12th centuries. Nobody knows how far they came and where to look for Aztlan. You might refer to the place called Whiteness to a tradition of Asiatic migration to America. You might say that Aztlan is the Whiteness of Siberian snows and Behring ice. Or, you might say that Aztlan is brother to Asgard and never existed at all--anywhere nobody knows whether the Azteca took over an older legend and adapted it to themselves.

Nobody knows by which of the many possible routes the Amerindians filtered sothward. So, it would be absurd to expect to know anything about a village called "The Place Where the Water Springs Forth". The first colonists arrived in the 1300s. They were Nahuas from San Juan Cosala. When they arrived, they found scatters of Indians living on the shores. These are believed to have been Tarascan wanderers from Michoacan, which borders on the southeastern end of the Lake.

The Nahuas were different from other Indian tribes around the Lake. These primitives lived on Chapala's vast shores with no thought of founding permanent pueblos. Nor were they curious about their own origins, their forefathers or their names. Their vision of the worldwas simple. They were completely absorbed with the rendering of tribute to their gods. It was through pleasing these deities that the sun shone and the rains fell on their land. Obtaining their daily sustenance was their primary reason for being. Their second priority was defending themselves against hostile Tarascos and other neighboring tribs. To ward off such attacks, the Nahuas established complex barricades on the shores of this immense Lake, dwelling place of the goddess Machis."(June Nay Summers, VILLAGES IN THE SUN, pag.38,39)

MEANING

"In pre-conquest times, Ajijic (Ah-ee-heec) was spelled Axixique or Axixic. The final "c" was pronounced by Spanish rules, but whenever anyone pronounces it, people in these parts know he is a stranger. Ajijic means "The Place Where the Water Springs Forth" in Nahuatl." (June Nay Summers, VILLAGES IN THE SUN, pag.37)

HISTORY

In 1522, the Spanish Olid Expedition reached the eastern shores of what is today called Lake Chapala. When it arrived, its leader, Captain Avalos, met with little resistance. A royal grant from the king of Spain gave joint ownership of the area to Avalos, who was a cousin of Hernan Cortez. Soon other cousins arrived, and one of them by the name of Saenz acquired almost all of the land that is now Ajijic.

By 1530, the Saenz property was one huge hacienda. The principal crop was mescal, which was used in the making of tequila. The hills were covered with mescal plants. Coffee and corn were also planted. Later, when a tequila distillery was built, the beverage was shipped, along with the coffee, back to Spain.

A mill was constructed on top of the main Saenz residence, which is today the site of the old Posada Ajijic. The blast of a conch horn at 4 a.m. summoned the Indians to bring their corn to the mill to be ground. This mill remained in business until the 1940s.

Subsequent events were to further alter the village. When the Franciscan missionaries arrived, they gave it a patron saint, Saint Andrew. Henceforth, the village was called San Andres de Axixic. Its cobblestone streets, laid down in this period, are still in use today. Later, another grant from the king of Spain made provision for the indigenous Indians.

Ultimately, the Franciscans would completely colonize Ajijic, and in 1535 build their first monastery. During the Cristero Wars of the late 1920s, the monastery was seized by the state, and today is a private residence called Casa Los Suenos (House of Dreams).

Also in 1535, the Franciscans built a chapel and a large church. The church, destroyed by a hurricane and rebuilt some 15 years later, is in use today.
During the Porfirian Era (1875-1920), it was difficult to reach Ajijic from Chapala by land. Commerce was confined to an occasional cargo canoe coming onto the beach at the Saenz hacienda for a load of tequila or coffee beans.

In the early 1920s, the mayor of Chapala purchased the Saenz property, and renamed it Hacienda Tlacuache (the Opossum). The property is still owned by the mayor's descendants, and is now leased to dozens of individuals.

In 1925, Ajijic, with its placid ambience and mild weather, was discovered by European artists and intellectuals. Later, it became a refuge of those fleeing political persecution.

FLORA

Ajijic is a village of greenery and flowers. The main plaza is a pleasant, shaded oasis on a hot day. Many streets are tree-lined. Some very old trees have grown to be giants. Bouganvillea cascades over garden walls, shading sidewalks.

Inside garden walls, owners grow a wide variety of trees, plants and flowers from all over the world. A large selection of fruit trees is to be found in the village - guayaba, lemon, tangerine, orange, lime, guamuchil, avocado, banana, papaya, chile, strawberry-guava. Some of the trees found in the village are: ficus, evergreen oak, cedar, Australian pine, rubber tree, licorice, willow, eucalyptus, mesquite, palm, jacaranda, primavera and Indian laurel.

In Ajijic there are also plantings of corn, beans, sugar cane and chayote, among others.

FAUNA

Predominating fauna in Ajijic is birds, fish, domestic and farm animals. Once there were mountain cats and deer in the higher altitudes, but they are vanishing with time. Badger, dasypus, skunk, some reptiles, and huilotas are occasionally seen.

Large colonies of white garzas (herons) and snowy egrets are to be found on the lakeshore. Herons regularly take to the giant eucalyptus trees at dusk. Cinsontle, jilguero sparrows and kiskadees are some of the birds most often seen in town.

In the Lake are carp, charales, tilapia, pintas and sea-fish that the local people eat or sell.

Horses, cows, donkeys, hens, chickens and pigsare not uncommon in the village, and most families own a dog or a cat.

LOCATION

Ajijic is situated on a narrow strip of land between the mountains to the north and the Lake to the South. It is flanked by San Antonio Tlayacapan to the east and San Juan Cosala to the west. It is seven kilometers west of Chapala. Its average annual temperature is 19.9 degrees Centigrade "68F".

POPULATION

In the 1950s, Ajijic had a population of 6,000. Today that figure has gown to 15,000. It is still considered a hospitable haven, drawing the adventurous from every corner of the globe. It has the greatest concentration of expats in the Lakeside area.

Its streets are narrow, paved with cobblestones, Most homes are behind stone or brick walls, many with surprisingly spacious grounds. The sounds of the village are everywhere - church bells, horses' hooves, the loud speaker of the gas truck, the bell of the water truck, the musical theme of the ice cream man, and calls of various other vendors. Ajijic continues to retain its Mexican identity, while at the same time catering to tourists, with hotels, B & Bs and restaurants galore - more, probably, than in any other Mexican village of its size.

COMMUNICATION

Branching off the carretera between Ajijic and San Antonio Tlayacapan is a two-lane highway, the Libramiento, that connects with the highway to Guadalajara. Taking it will enable you to by-pass Chapala in your car and avoid traffic.

Buses from and to Chapala and Jocotepec pass along the carretera every half hour. Local buses pass through Ajijic village every 15 minutes. The bus to Guadalajara can be boarded on the carretera or at the Chapala bus station. These, too, run every half hour.

Taxis are stationed at Ajijic's main plaza, and will travel as far as Guadalajara or farther, by special arrangement.

The postal/telegraph office is two blocks south of the plaza. Most homes and all businesses have telephones. There are several public internet services.

All TV signals from Guadalajara and Mexico City can be seen in Ajijic, and all radio stations heard. There are no TV or radio stations in Lakeside. Cable TV is available.

ART

 

Originally an artists' colony, Ajijic is still full of art galleries and studios. Artists and artisans, Mexican and non-Mexican, offer prints, oil paintings, water colors, sculpture in both metal and wood, and silver jewelry. Weavers, some of whom are Huichol Indian, make serapes, blankets, and wall hangings in bright colors.

The Canadian-American population has spurred an increase in cultural activities. Two organizations are currently very actively engaged in the art scene:

The non-profit Society of Arts (ASA) is dedicated to the promotion of artist and artesanal products in the area, such as weaving, pottery, music, painting, etc.

El Centro de Ajijic de Bellas Artes (CABA) is an art gallery created more than five years ago by American artists to promote the art of painters, sculptors and photographers.

The annual Ajijic International Film Festival is the most recent addition to the village's artistic events.

Stimulated by the creative atmosphere, a number of well known writers have worked here. During the late thirties, in Ajijic, W. Somerset Maugham finished The Razor's Edge. In the forties, Tennessee Williams lived here, hosting a nightly poker game that inspired a short story, The Poker Night, which he later expanded into A Streetcar Named Desire. In the last few years, four best-selling novels by Barbara Bickmore and several non-fiction books by Jim Tuck were written here. Presently, the Lakeside Writers Group serves as a venue for both established and budding writers to critique one another's efforts. A literary magazine, El Ojo del Lago, published monthly, gives aspiring authors a chance to see their words in print. Editor Alejandro Grattan, former movie director and screenwriter and now a successful novelist, sets high standards for the magazine.

FESTIVITIES

Every Wednesday the tianguis (open air market) takes place, starting early in the morning.

In February comes the Chili Cook-off, a three-day extravaganza where cooks compete for a trophy, a large cash prize, and a place in a world championship contest. Live entertainment is featured, and there is plenty of food -- not just chili.

Also in February is Carnaval, with "allegorical cars," a parade, music, dance, and a charreado at the lienzo charoo. Sayacos is a ritual where men dressed in wooden "old man" masks run, with all the kids chasing them.

For Holy Week (March-April), Via Crusis is a live representation of the passion of Christ's crucifixion. It starts at the church and ends at the chapel on the mountain. It is said to be one of the most impressive in Mexico. Locals from all walks of life become dedicated actors for three days. The costumes and settings are outstanding.

On May 3, Dia de la Cruz, houses and streets are decorated with lots of color, and fireworks are heard.

On September 15-16, Mexican Independence is celebrated with pyrotechnics, games, mariachi music, folkloric dances, and food at the plaza.

On October 31, Dia del Rosario, there are fireworks, Castillo, and a country fair at the plaza.

November 2 is Dia de los Muertos. Altars are built at the plaza and at La Casa de la Cultura.

November 21-28, the village celebrates its own Fiesta Patronal, honoring Saint Andrew, with nine days of fireworks, processions, games, music, dance, food and drink.

December 17-24, Posadas, features Christmas carols, representation of the Virgin, days before Jesus Christ was born, and piñatas for the children. It ends December 24 with the display of nativities from different parts of the world.