Monday, April 27, 2009

Lake Chapala's south shore treasures Part 2: Tuxcueca

Hilltop chapel overlooks the ancient village of Tuxcueca. Construction of the Capilla de Virgen de Guadalupe was begun in 1900 and completed several years later. Capilla means chapel in Spanish. According to Tony Burton, author of several excellent books on Western Mexico, the high hill on which the Capilla perches was once an island lying just off the south shore of Lake Chapala. Carole and I, joined by our friends Denis and Julika, visited Tuxcueca on the same day we stopped at the Hacienda San Francisco (see Part 1). For a map of the area we visited, click here.

Note to my viewers: In some places below, I mention that I have only limited information about a location or structure. Sometimes I am forced to make educated guesses. If you can help with background or details, feel free to use the comment section at the end, or contact me by my email listed in that section. 

The line between lake and shore has always been ambiguous at Lake Chapala. The lake is now relatively high, perhaps 75% of its historic capacity. What was recently dry land is now a watery slough. The town name Tuxcueca may have originally been Ylocuexcan. It means either "noise of rabbits" or "place of petticoats made of rabbit fur".

Little is known about Tuxcueca's earliest inhabitants. There is some conjecture that Toltecs, predecessors of the Aztecs, were once in the area. Some years before the Conquest began in 1521, the Purepecha king Tangaxoan from Michoacan invaded. Tangaxoan wanted the saltpeter deposits along the south shore of the Lake. Saltpeter, or salitre, was used as a food preservative, very important in cultures without refrigeration. Unfortunately for the Purepechans, the Lord of Colima, who may have been called Colimote, had a prior claim and defeated Tangaxoan in the Salitre War. In spite of the defeat, after 500 years Purepechans still maintain a presence in the area.

Templo de Apostle St. Bartholomew was built by the Spanish. The temple is the main church in Tuxcueca and stands beside the plaza. The town of Tuxcueca was officially founded by the Spanish in 1529, five years after the conquistador Captain Avalos came through and subjugated the Chicimeca indians who were living along the south shore. The town site was moved about 2 kilometers west to its present location in 1560.  

Only a shell remains of this old adobe house. The ruins have been prettified with various plants and flowers. Someone has set up a small shrine to the Virgen de Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico, and especially of Mexico's indians. The Virgin became a compelling political symbol for the insurgents in the War of Independence from Spain (1810-1821), hence the small Mexican flags. The adobe ruins guard at the entrance to the stairway up the hill to the Capilla.

Adobe ruins from the rear. I have no information about the original function of these ruins. They probably pre-date the Capilla on the hill behind, but that is a guess. Adobe is still used in houses and other structures in Mexico today. It is one of the world's oldest building materials, with a history of at least 4000 years. The Bible speaks of the Hebrews making mud bricks for the Pharoah of Egypt. Adobe is easily shaped from materials close at hand: clay, sand, straw, dung, and pebbles. In dry climates, it is extremely durable and its thick walls provide good insulation from heat or cold. The word "adobe" has come down from the early Egyptians with little change in pronunciation or meaning.

Stairway to Heaven. The stairs helped my photography because they afforded an increasingly expansive view of Tuxcueca and the surrounding area. At the top you can see an arched gate protecting the entrance to the grounds which form the summit of the knoll on which the Capilla sits. The people of Tuxcueca and the surrounding area use the Capilla for a variety of religious occasions. It is also a place where picnickers and lovers can enjoy a stunning 360 degree  view of the Lake and mountains.

The Capilla commands a view of the whole area. The War of Independence, the insurgency against French occupation in the 1860s, the 1910 Revolution, and the Cristero War in the 1920s all raged through the area.  Unfortunately, I have little specific information about how they affected Tuxcueca or the Capilla. However, as a former military officer, it is my opinion that control of these heights would have been important in controlling the south shore of the Lake as well as the road that extends from Tuxcueca into the mountains.

How the Capilla originally appeared. Someone set up this small plaster model of the Capilla in the cactus garden just outside the chapel door. The bell tower on the left side no longer exists, leaving only a broken stump. Given the Capilla's strategic position, the cause could have been battle damage, perhaps in the Revolution or the Cristero war. On the other hand, given the volcanism of the surrounding mountains, it could have been an earthquake. 

Cactus thrives on the Capilla grounds and on the slopes all around. The south side of the Lake is warmer and drier than the north shore. This may be the cause of the proliferation of cactus of all types. I had to step carefully while photographing the grounds, but still managed to acquire some impressive cuts and scratches.

Controlling the Lake’s shore. A battery of cannon situated here could have controlled a significant section of the lake shore, including the small harbor where present day Tuxcueca fishermen bring in their catch. The mountains on the far shore loom over Ajijic and Chapala.

Lunch at Mismaloya and the best view in the house.  We had worked up quite an appetite climbing up and down all those stairs at the Capilla. On Denis and Julika's recommendation, we decided to stop for lunch in a little town between Tuxcueca and Tizapan called Mismaloya. 

El Mirador Restaurant Familiar serves both meat and fish dishes and has a handful of American dishes as well as Mexican fare. The restaurant is easy to find, because it sits just off Highway 15 and overlooks Mismaloya and the Lake. It is open-air with a palapa (palm frond) roof and has a stunning view. El Mirador means, roughly, "the lookout". 

Mexicans eat late, so when we stopped at about noon, we were the only customers and could pick the table with the best view in the house. In the photo I am looking north by east, in the direction of Mezcala. The green vegetation on the Lake is reeds, indicating that the water is still pretty shallow out to that point. The reeds provide food and shelter to a myriad of waterfowl. 

This concludes my 2-part series on the treasures of Lake Chapala's south shore. I hope you have a chance to visit sometime. I have only covered a sample of what is in the trove, and I certainly plan to return in the near future.  

Hasta luego, Jim




  1. i live in san nicolas.san nicolas is five minutes from tuxcueca ,but now i live in napa ca.tuxcoeca is a biutiful town it has too much hitory.


  3. I was born in Tuxcueca and you mention that the hill where capilla de Guadalupe is was an island.
    I was born in the hill opposite the la capilla .
    This hill is called cerrito d ela cruz.
    I always found indian artifacts related to fishing and from there I deduced that maybe it was an island long time ago like cerro de la capilla where I also found remansnts of indian artifacts.
    My cousisn lives in Tuxcueca and he is a amateur archeologist.
    One thing: thank you for learning about my culture, I always said that foreigners know more about my own country than our own people.

  4. i like your pictures of flowers and canyons

  5. if you have a pic of a flower from a type of orchid(?) growing in mezquites please post it here or you can e mail it to me to
    Local people call it injerto and they feed it to the goats.
    the flower is small and orange in color.
    I used to live in Napa too now I live in sacramento

  6. Im so glad I found this in the internet, I am helping my aunt to fiend her relatives who are from Tuxcueca, her dad just to take her there when she was little and she lost contact with them when he pass away in 1968, when I was telling her about the white chappel an the stair to heaven she was very happy and was asking me to take her there, right know is impossible, but if some body knows anything about the Vejar Amezcua family please send me an email at Thanks.

  7. This site is a virtual treasure trove of information about Mexico! (Found the link on the Chapala forum). We just purchased a home there and are always interested in the history of an area so it was a delight to find this site. How rewarding, too, to have native Mexicans excited to know more about their history. Thank you for your amazing contribution!
    P Salvati, New Chapala resident

  8. Nice work! I visited this site today and found it just magical... You helped clear up a few questions I had about this place. Was astounded to find out that the much bigger church in town was much older than the tiny church on the hill. Awesome day!

  9. My family is from there. My dads uncle build the capilla model his name was Ruben vargas


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