Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ajijic's quirkiest street

Pedro on parade. Pedro is widely known local figure. He retired as a north-of-the-border attorney some years back and decided to change his lifestyle. Clearly he has succeeded. Pedro is arguably the quirkiest character on the quirkiest street in Ajijic. Until recently he could be seen in company with Margarite, his burro. He often rode her down toward the pier carrying a large Mexican flag. Unfortunately, Pedro had to part company with Margarite because of his frail health.  In a  town full of unusual characters, Pedro is in a class of his own.

The street we will focus on runs from the base of the mountains right down to the Ajijic Pier. What makes it "quirky" are  all the art galleries, shops, and restaurants that line the section between the Plaza and the Pier. Many of these are decorated with signs and murals that will make a visitor's neck swivel and eyes pop. The street actually has two names: Calle Colon from the mountains to where it meets Calle Ocampo, a block below the Plaza toward the Lake. Then it becomes Calle Morelos for the next two blocks down to the Pier.  Streets in Mexican villages, towns and  cities commonly change names, often numerous times, along their length. This causes much confusion to the newcomer. Oddly, the same names keep cropping up, usually heroic figures from the War of Independence, the Revolution or one of the other internal struggles over Mexico's long and violent history. Wherever you go, there will be streets named Hidalgo, Juarez, Zapata, Carranza, etc.

La Capilla serves for another wedding. La Capilla (the "Little Chapel") sits on the northwest corner of Ajijic  Plaza. One of the oldest structures in Ajijic, La Capilla was built by the Franciscan monks in the mid-1500s, about 200 years before the large San Andres parrochia church nearby.  La Capilla has seen many weddings over the last 450 years. On the day I took this photo, a bride and her father waited in the entrance for the organ  to signal them to proceed down the aisle. The man standing to the right of the entrance has just rung the bell with the yellow hand-rope seen draped down the front of the church. The bell has been rung this way since the time of the Conquest.

A rather unusual police station. Ajijic is a subdivision of the city of Chapala and the local municipal building, pictured above, houses the police and some other city functions. As befits an artist's town, the front of the building has been decorated with a beautiful tile representation of fishermen rolling up a net full with their catch.

Speaking of artists... Local artist Chris English and a female friend walk by the front of one of my favorite restaurants in Ajijic. Chris is a  fellow hiker, paints beautiful pictures, has published stories in a local magazine, and is a good friend of mine. However, I didn't realize he would  be in the picture until I had already taken it. Panda Stir Fry was closed that day and I wanted some human activity to liven up the picture. I waited until someone approached, not realizing it would be Chris and his friend. Panda Stir Fry, about 1/2 block south of the Plaza, serves mongolian-style stir fry meals. The food is wonderful and at 50 pesos (about $3.50 US) for all you can eat,  it is one of the best deals in town. It is new restaurant and the friendly young Mexican couple who own it are struggling to make a go of it. I very much hope they do. Panda Stir Fry is an excellent addition to Ajijic's culinary opportunities. 

More opportunities for your palate. These two small restaurants stand across the street from Panda Stir Fry. Tortas ahogadas are Mexican versions of an American "sloppy joe".  Pork or beef is chopped up finely and mixed with onions and spices and salsa inside a large bun.  It is delicious but kind of messy, so keep a handful of servilletas (napkins) handy. The Creperie got started about the same time as the Panda Stir Fry. The moderately-priced food is primarily French with a Mexican twist. The owners have created a delightful garden courtyard  in  back, just right for a quiet lunch. We love having Mexican, Asian, and French restaurants within steps of each other. 

Diane Pearl's shop comes with a dreamy mural on the side. Diane Pearl's  sells handmade jewelry, paintings, sculpture and  much more. Our friend Maya, who splits her time between San Francisco and Ajijic, has placed some of her handmade jewelry here.  

Galeria La Puerta & Maestros del Arte have colorful critters on the front. These two shops share space and I have always enjoyed the wonderful animals like this armadillo painted in vivid colors on the front. Galeria La Puerta offers art for your home and your garden, clothing ("wearable art"), and jewelry. Marianne Carlson, who owns Maestros del Art, travels all over Mexico to meet folk art masters in remote villages. She sells their art through her store and also promotes their work with the annual Feria art show I have featured elsewhere on this blog. 

Di Paola Galeria displays eye catching artwork on its doorway. Di Paola's offers various kinds of artwork most particularly photography, but also includes some gorgeous folk art. In addition, the store also sells wonderful books on art and local architecture. Maria Di Paola Blum was born in Italy and discovered photography at nine when she was allowed into a dark room for the first time. Canadian artist John Richmond, also known as Juan Campo, painted the sign for Di Paola shown above.

Tango anyone? Carole's favorite restaurant is Ajijic Tango, an Argentine place which features various cuts of beef served in huge portions, but also many scrumptious non-meat dishes including gourmet pizza. Tango is very popular, particularly with the weekend crowd from Guadalajara. If you want a table on the weekend, better show up early or get a reservation

Hotel Estancia is a combination hotel and art gallery. The exterior of the hotel was painted by local artist Bruno Mariscal whose work can be found all over Ajijic's walls. I have never stayed at Hotel Estancia, but I love its decor and this small (8 rooms) hotel is ideally located between the Plaza and the Pier. For more information, click here.

Opus Boutique and Galeria has a show-stopping exterior. This shop stopped me in my tracks when I first turned the corner and got the full effect of its colors and images. I'm not the only one. Photos of the Opus Boutique appear on any number of Ajijic-oriented blogs and websites. The artist is again Bruno Mariscal. The store offers clothing (more "wearable art"), jewelry, and plenty of folk art and odd nicknacks.
 
Private home continues the color scheme. I was delighted to find these butterflies adorning a private home which shares a corner with the Boutique, as well as sharing its color scheme. At another time, I intend to do something on the beautiful and unusual ways people decorate the outside of their homes in Ajijic.

Uncle Bob's Bar and Smoking Club. This  tiny open-air bar, about the size of a 2 car garage, has long been popular among the alcohol-oriented set. Since I don't drink, I don't come here often, but occasionally I'll stop in to this local landmark and order an "agua mineral y limon" (soda water with a slice of lime). The decor is very eclectic with old movie posters, cow skulls, and various odd objects covering the walls. Someone once said that Ajijic is a place where "painters come to drink and drinkers come to paint".  Sooner or later they probably all end up here.
 
Los Telares has romance and great food too. On the day we arrived for our very first exploratory visit to Ajijic, we came here for dinner. Like many places in Ajijic (and Mexico for that matter) Los Telares' simple exterior leads into a lush garden courtyard. We were brought here by another Ajijic character named Don whom we encountered on the street as we stood baffled, trying to make sense of our map. Don showed us around town and we ended up here for dinner. I recommend the sea bass cooked with butter and garlic. The atmosphere of Los Telares just oozes romance.
  
Centro de Arte y Cultura. This small gallery contains especially quirky folk art. Usually there are a couple of old Mexican guys hanging out on the small porch under the sign. Hard to say whether they are artists or simply locals enjoying the shade. Also on the porch is an old-fashioned loom, almost entirely constructed from wood and string and clearly functional. The loom is a work of art itself, and operates entirely on human energy. I thought the bougainvilla draped over the sign was especially inviting.
 
Handmade crafts and textiles hang casually from trees near the  Lake. Sometimes you can watch local indian women make blankets and other textile goods on small hand looms right by the water, as women have done for half a millenium or more. As usual, the colors are vivid and mixed in a way that would never work north-of-the-border, but always does in Old Mexico.

Old Posada restaurant porch faces right on the water. The Old Posada has a long history as a hotel as well as a restaurant, but now it only serves meals. One of the earliest Spaniards to reach the area was a cousin of Hernan Cortes, the famous (or infamous) conqueror of Mexico. The cousin, named Saenz, acquired most of what would become Ajijic and built his hacienda on the current site of Old Posada, along with a mill upstairs. The indians were called with a conch shell at 4:00 AM to bring their grain for milling. Amazingly, the mill remained in operation until the 1940s.

Ajijic Pier juts into a calm Lake Chapala. In the last year Tequila Republic, a trendy, restaurant/bar, opened on the end of the Pier. Entry is through the red boat standing upright on its stern. I found the food here to be somewhat so-so, but the ambiance is great. Surrounded by water on three sides, and shaded by its open-sided roof, the restaurant is the perfect place to sip a cold drink on a hot day as cool breezes drift through. It is also a fine place to view the sunset over the Lake, but can get a little chilly in the evening, even after a hot day, and a jacket or sweater is useful.    

Ajijic's brand-new Malecon basks in warm afternoon sunshine. The city governments of Chapala and Jocotopec have been busy improving the lakefront areas of villages along the north shore. After Amistad park was flooded when the Lake's water level rose, Chapala launched a major renovation of the Ajijic waterfront, including this newly tiled Malecon. The promenade is still under construction. The completed part you see stretches quite a distance, and includes a small amphitheater, a palapa, and other areas where families can enjoy the Lake. The city workers have planted palm trees and alternated them with lampposts, which promises to make the area more useable at night. 

(Below) Standing watch. A Great White Egret stands watch on a dead tree, while a fisherman's boat gently rocks in the distance. The only regret I have about the new development along the waterfront is the loss of habitat for the shore birds like this egret. I suppose they can move along the shore beyond the stone and concrete and people, but the ambiance of this stretch of the Lake is diminished a little by their loss.
 

8 comments:

  1. I'm looking for ceramic "fruit faced" Mexican art. I believe the artist goes by “El Mex” or Clemente.

    Many thanks,

    Nels

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm looking for ceramic "fruit faced" Mexican art. I believe the artist goes by “El Mex” or Clemente.

    Many thanks,

    Nels

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nels- Try Marianne Carlson of Maestros de Arte at jubob2@hotmail.com If anyone knows about the artist you cite, she will. Or at least she might be able to point you in the right direction. Good luck! Jim

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi, Busnut, If you give me further information about the item you are looking I might be able to find it, I live in Guadalajara very close to Toanala,a town known for their handcraft work, let me know, cheers, Alex alejandro.anzures@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hello jim, i live and ajijic and find your blog very interesting. I have a couple of restaurants in the area that i wish you could visit, El Jardin de Ninette and Cocina de San Andres, both on constitucion, one block from toms bar. We are also preparing a gourmet festival this year, hope you find that interesting
    Thx.
    Oscar Perez

    ReplyDelete
  6. Oscar- I've seen your restaurants, but have not been in yet. Look forward to it. Also look forward to the Gourmet festival, whenever it gets rescheduled. I was greatly disappointed that oink flu got in the way. Jim

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  7. Hi there Jim and Carole,
    Just wanted to let you know we saw Pedro and his 4 legged friend on the pier when we were there a couple of weeks ago. We enjoyed the colorful hats worn by both..
    We'll be returning in a couple of weeks for 6 months!

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  8. Lovely photos. When I returned home in late February to the US after my first visit to Guatemala, I awoke in the morning and looked out the window. Where were all the people? Where was all the color and noise I had grown to love in the month just passed?

    ReplyDelete

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