Thursday, December 24, 2009

The South Shore on a brilliant winter's day

Great White Egret eyes the water hungrily at the fishing village of Petatan. A few days before Christmas, Carole and I took our Oregon friends Mike and Dawn on a tour of some of the sites of Lake Chapala's South Shore. The day was gorgeous, brilliant with sunshine but cool with winter breezes. The haze which sometimes hangs over the Lake in the winter was largely absent, leaving the view crystal clear. Every fold and angle of the North Shore mountains, many miles across the Lake, was sharply defined. First we visited the small fishing village of Petatan, about 90 minutes around the Lake's shore from Ajijic between Tizapan el Alto and Cojumatlan de Regules.

Petatan's White Pelicans mill about, waiting for fish scraps from the cleaning shed. Petatan is famous for the multitude of pelicans which gather around the tip of the small peninsula every winter. I have previously posted pictures and lots more information about Petatan and these large intelligent creatures. The pelicans migrate from as far away as southern Canada. On the day shown above, we arrived early while the fishermen were still out with their nets. Only one fish cleaning shed was operating by the water's edge. The three young women at the table smiled shyly and nodded when I asked if I could take pictures. I selected this photo from many I took because I particularly like the way the sunlight sparkles off the water in front of the pelicans. Unlike their usual carefully arranged convoy formation while swimming, these birds were milling about in every direction, excited by the tidbits occasionally tossed out by the busy women.

Large wings spread, a pelican prepares to take flight from his rocky perch. The White Pelicans' personalities change dramatically depending on whether they are flying, swimming, or perching. In the air, they create a dramatic, graceful, and somewhat prehistoric appearance as they glide for long distances just above the water. In the water, they form long lines, two or three birds across and sometimes hundreds of birds in length. The lines snake in "s" curves across the water as they maneuver like naval convoys. It is only on land that their comical side emerges. Many birds will attempt to perch on the same tiny outcrop. Disputes break out, with much flapping of huge black-tipped wings. When their attention is drawn, all of the long yellow beaks will turn at once toward the subject of interest.

Snowy Egret examines the contents of a beached boat. The Snowy Egret is a smaller cousin of the Great White, and I have featured both species in previous postings. When I first observed egrets along the shore, I assumed the smaller Snowy was the female mate of the Great White, or perhaps an immature offspring. Upon further investigation, I discovered that they are separate species. The obvious differences, other than size, can be found in the beaks and feet. The Great White's beak is yellow while the Snowy's is dark. The Snowy, in turn has yellow feet, as seen above, while the Great White's are an elegant black. What confused me originally was that the two can often be seen fishing together in close proximity, as if they were mates.

Parrochia de San Francisco de Asis, in Tizapan. A parrochia is the central, or headquarters church, in a community. It may service several smaller churches in the area. Tizapan's parrochia was decorated with streamers for Christmas when we arrived. A special Mass was under way inside, so I refrained from photos of the beautiful interior. Tizapan is a small, clean, bustling city of almost 14,000 people, founded in 1529 near a village of Chichimeca Indians. The present Parrochia de San Francisco is relatively new, having been built in stages between 1836 and 1905. On a previous visit we stopped by the wonderful ruins of the Hacienda San Francisco, on the extreme western outskirts of Tizapan. The hacienda operated for almost 500 years, but was broken up during the 1910-1917 Revolution.

Keeping an eye on things. As I approached from a distance, I noticed something strange about this unpainted statue in front of the church entrance. Although the rest of the statue was completely unadorned, the sculptor (I presume it was him) had placed startling blue-glass eyes in the head. The eyes create a weird, sort of space-alien feel about the piece. The person portrayed is D. Abundio Anaya "Gran Protector de Nuestra Parrochia" (Great Protector of our parish church). Tizapan was a center of Catholic resistance to reforms instituted by the Revolutionary Government in the 1920's. Radical Catholic activists started an armed revolt called the Cristero War which lasted from 1926-1929. Thousands were killed on both sides throughout Mexico and the struggle was particularly intense in Jalisco State where Tizapan is located.

View from the Parrochia, down Francisco Madero street. Looking through the gates of the church, you can see the crowded booths of the Christmas fiesta that was under way when we arrived. Booths lined the streets for several blocks in every direction, as mariachis played in the plaza and families picnicked and shopped at the little stands. You could buy anything from Christmas toys, to children's clothes, to fresh vegetables and newly killed chickens.

Palacio Municipal gleams in the bright sunlight. The Palacio faced the plaza, opposite the church, as is usual in Mexican towns. The municipal government is the equivalent to a county government in the US, and usually has the same name as the largest town in the municipality, in this case Tizapan. The young man in the foreground has almost certainly spent some time in the US, probably someplace like Los Angeles given his clothing. In small Mexican towns and cities it is very unusual to see a man wearing shorts or having a shaved head. These are north-of-the-border styles. He may be home visiting relatives for Christmas.

An abuelo teases his nietos in this small family vignette. The grandfather on the bench was having fun with his grandchildren. Notice that he and all the men on the bench wear long pants and cowboy hats, the dominant style in this community. Abuelos are deeply respected in the Mexican community, and families, although usually quite large, tend to be very close.

Mismaloya, another fishing town, affords a magnificent view. We stopped for lunch in Mismaloya, located on a steep hillside overlooking the Lake between Tizapan and Tuxcueca. In the picture above, you are looking northwest towards Ajijic and Chapala directly across the Lake. Highway 15, which rims the South Shore, runs above the town. Just off the highway is the Mirador del Marinero (Sailor's Lookout) restaurant. This is one of my favorite spots to eat along the South Shore, both for its food and its spectacular 180 degree view.

Looking northeast from the Mirador del Marinero restaurant, toward Mezcala. What might be first taken for floating lirio, or water hyacinth, is actually lake grass. This photo shows how shallow the Lake is, out to a considerable distance. At the center-right, you can see a fisherman's boat, coming in with his afternoon catch. At this point, Lake Chapala is probably about 12 miles wide.

And now for lunch! I ordered Mojarra al mojo de ajo. I knew al mojo de ajo meant seasoned with garlic, and that it was some kind of fish, but I wasn't prepared to get the whole thing, fins, eyeballs and all! The fish were gutted (fortunately), slashed several times along each side, and then thrown on the grill. It was actually quite tasty, if a little bony. I avoided the gaze of my finny repast. In addition to the main course, this restaurant serves up an astonishing amount of food as appetizers, including chips, salsa, sliced jicama, roasted and seasoned potatoes, and a cup of hot, spicy soup. No one need walk away hungry from the Mirador del Marinero.

This concludes my posting on our South Shore visit. I greatly enjoy hearing from people, so if you'd like to respond, you can either leave a comment in the section below or email me directly. You are also more than welcome to forward a link to my blog to anyone you'd like.
If you leave a comment below with a question, please include your email so that I can respond.

Feliz Navidad! Jim

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