Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico

 

"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 mezcal, which was used in the making of tequila. The hills were covered with mezcal 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 people called 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 probably 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.

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Nobody knows by which of the many possible routes the Amerindians filtered southward. 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 world was 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 tribes. 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 (pronounced “Ah-she-sheek.”) 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)

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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.

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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 hacie0nda 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.

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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, and strawberry-guava. Some of the trees found in the village are: ficus, evergreen oak, cedar, Australian pine, Rubber tree, Licorice, Willow, Eucalyptus, Mesquite, Palm, Indian Laurel, jacaranda, and Primavera. During the spring, the latter two, Jacarandas and Primaveras fill the streets with their vibrant purple and yellow flower colors.

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

We are very fortunate to have just literally steps from the village El Tepalo. It is a place one must visit during the rainy season (between June and September). Besides being all green and lush, there is a creek in which the water level varies depending on how much it rained in the previous days - the more rain the more water. El Tepalo offers you several waterfalls and pools where one can step in a refresh oneself on these hot days. The trail is not very long and is fairly easy to hike, although there are parts where the trail is a little steep and slippery so one must be careful. From the trailhead one can make it to the top in about 20 minutes walking at a normal pace, but usually people take their time as one must stop now and then to admire the beautiful surroundings. Although the waterfalls are the main attraction, one must also admire the natural beauty all around. Part of the flora there includes a variety of wild flowers that change as the weeks go by. And from the very top, above the last waterfall, there is an incredible view of the mountain sides and the lake. Definitely a magical and beautiful place.

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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.

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

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

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Every year there is a white pelican migration. They stay the winter months and return to Canada at the beginning of April. Although you can see them flying around all around the lake, they like to gather mostly in the town of Petatan, a little fishing village. The fishers feed the white pelicans the fish innards so they are quite happy sticking around that lakeshore village, which is located across the lake and it takes a little less than two hours to get there from Ajijic. It’s quite the spectacle seeing the great amount of white pelicans floating on the water or flying in formation.

 

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".

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POPULATION

In the 1950s, Ajijic had a population of 6,000. Today that figure has grown 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.

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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. 

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

The postal office is situated on the north side of the highway just past the Farmacias Guadalajara going westbound. Most homes and all businesses have telephones and internet service nowadays.

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 and satellite 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: 

Ajijic Society of the Arts (ASA) is a membership organization for artists working in all media in the Lake Chapala area of Mexico. Established in 1986, The Society encourages working and aspiring artists to develop their talents, and it provides and promotes events to showcase their work. ASA also functions as a social and educational network, helping members share their creative techniques and inspiration with each other to further individual artistic growth and ability.

The CCA (Centro Cultural de Ajijic) has been opening its doors to the Ajijic comunity for 12 years, always offering many art activities varying from youth classical music concerts to puppet presentations, to numerous plays, as well as rotating visual art exhibitions, this center always has something to offer the community.

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Besides their ongoing special events which are always different to keep it diverse, this center also offers a set weekly schedule with different classes such as yoga for all levels, regional and Tolteca dance, children's choir, painting, drawing and printmaking, and craft workshops.

Check out their page Centro Cultural Ajijic for their weekly schedule and other events,

The Andador de Axixic is a nice place to hang out on a nice weekend evening. It's been a little over a year since the street Morelos from Ocampo all the way down to the malecon was closed off to cars and turn it pedestrian over the weekend days. That way, the businesses along the way can extend their services all the way onto the street. Besides the already established businesses along this street, there are other vendors that come and set up shop to offer you their various products that vary from crystals and leather bound books to traditional clothing, not to mention all kinds of snacks. There are also music groups that come down to play live music. There have been reggae bands and fusions like Jarocho mixed with flamenco, also Jazz and other kinds of music.

andador axixic

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 charreada at the Lienzo Charro. Sayacos is a ritual where men dressed in wooden "old man" masks run, with all the kids chasing them. It is tradition to throw flour at people so it is now expected to end up full of flour no matter what you are wearing or who you are, or if you try ti hide behind anyone or anything.

carnaval ajijic

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 the weekend before the big Independence Day on September 15th, the celebration kicks off with a Globo Regatta, a tradition that has been going on for more than 50 years and in which every year many teams, after working and making these complicated paper balloons, they can finally inflate then and let them float away into the sky awing the audience. During the early years, the balloons where quite simple. But as the years gone by, they have learned new techniques in building these balloons, some of them are so complicated it's a challenge to even get them inflated. It's very fun to see the process and the emotion people feel when the balloon takes off. Although sometimes they don't even make it up at all as they catch fire immediately. Some do start to gain altitude and then there will be a breeze and puff, it's on fire. One just have to keep an eye on them as they fall burning up so they don't fall on you! Once they touch ground, usually a group of kids will start stomping on the fire to put it out. But most of the balloons do make it so far up one can't even see them anymore. Besides the globos, there is food for sale to keep the tummy happy and various beverages to cool off from the heat. There is also a band to liven up the environment. It's quite the spectacle!!

regata de globos

Mid September is Dia de los Charros celebrated with a parade with all the charros ridding their beautiful horses. They end at the lienzo charro (the bull arena) and have several games and competitions, and live music.

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The traditional annual Queen coronation happens around those same dates, usually on the weekend. They do several appearances during the previous weeks showing their qualities and try to gain popularity among the people to get their votes.

September 15 – 16 th. The celebrations for Dia de la Independencia starts off with games for children during the afternoon. There is live Mariachi music after and then at night it’s the traditional Grito de Independencia (Cry of Independence) followed by a variety of entertainment shows such as folkloric dances. On the following day, it's the parade in the morning where students of all Ajijic schools march in formal uniform starting from the Carriles in La Floresta, turning around at the Seis Esquinas (Six Corners) and end at the plaza. Later in the evening, the War of the Flowers will occur, where the newly crowned Queen and her cohort will promenade around while she and the onlookers throw flowers at each other. Another tradition during those days is the fashion show at the plaza with local women showcasing traditional rebozos from all regions. As always, there is a great variety of things to snack and drink everyday!

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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. For the past several years it has become tradition that several teams build a life size sculpture of a Catrina, the styles vary and the majority are built with recycled materials. They are placed in different places around the plaza and the malecon.


That day families spend time at the cemetery where everything is decorated with colorful cut paper and cempasúchil and other flowers and spend all evening hanging out, chatting, drinking and eating with their dead loved ones. There is usually live music going on on several parts of the cemetery. It is also a fairly new tradition to have a little parade starting in the early evening from the cemetery and end up at the plaza, following a live brass band and where most people dress up in several different types of dead, such as the famous Catrina. At the plaza the celebration continues with music, dancing and eating and drinking.

November 21-30, 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.

 

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