Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Teocuitatlan: "The place of gold"

A sunny afternoon on the Teocuitatlan Plaza. Above, a lovely set of portales (arched walkways) with a distinct Moorish design line the Plaza. Behind them, the steeples and dome of Parrochia San Miguel Archangel rise against fluffy white clouds. Several months ago, Carole and I and our friend Maya decided to visit the small city of Teocuitatlan de Corona. The city's name comes from the ancient Nahua language and means "the place of gold". Teocuitatlan lies in the valley just behind the mountains which rim the south side of Lake Chapala, about 90 minutes from Ajijic. This small colonial city is actually quite near the Barranca Yerba Buena where we discovered huge waterfalls and later enjoyed a Corn Harvest Fiesta with a local farmer (see Hiking under the Index of Topics for postings on these places). My earlier visits to the area whetted my appetite to see what Teocuitatlan might hold. We were charmed by what we found.

Ancient colonial columns support the portales. The smooth, cool stones of the walkway have been trod for centuries by people coming to do business in the small shops which line the sides of the Plaza. The color scheme of the buildings, rust red on the lower part, creamy white above, is typical of many old colonial mountain towns. Only the bicycle and the "Farmacia" sign betray the century in which you are viewing this scene. When the Spanish under Captain Juan Alvarez Chico arrived in 1521, they found a village of Coca Indians here, ruled by the Lord Tzaullan. Only a few years before, there had been a fierce struggle through this area called the Salt Wars, fought by the Purepecha Empire (also known as the Tarascans) to secure control of the salt flats to the west of the town, around the dry lakes which lie between present day Guadalajara and Colima. Salt was essential to food preservation and preparation and also to indigenous industrial activities such as textile production. The Purepechas had few sources and, to secure access, they had to range far from their base around Lake Patzcuaro in present-day Michoacan.

A view of the Plaza and its kiosco from the shade of the portales. A few years after their initial visit, the Spanish returned in 1523 under Captain Alonzo de Avalos. This time they stayed, and the Captain annexed the area to the Province of Avalos under the Kingdom of New Galicia. Spanish families and their Tlaxcallan, Aztec, and Tarascan Indian allies began to settle on the lands of the quiet, fertile valley under the shadow of Mt. Garcia.

Another view of the Plaza. In 1825, shortly after the War of Independence, Jalisco public records note a city hall in the town. By 1844, the town of Teocuitatlan had grown enough to be incorporated as the seat of the municipality (county government) called by the same name. Today, only a handful of indigenous people remain, none of them the original Cocas. Most of the current indigenous people speak Huichol, the language of a people who came into the area in more recent years from the mountainous border to the north between Jalisco and Nayarit States.

Aguacate seller pockets his profit after making a sale. We stopped to buy fresh aguacates (avocados) from this street seller. All a Mexican has to do to start up a business is lay out his goods on the sidewalk. Notice the old-fashioned balance scale at his feet. He seemed in a good mood after we made our purchases so I asked his permission for a photo.

Teocuitatlan street scene reveals bustling prosperity. I was surprised by the number of new cars on the streets, a good sign of prosperity. El Centro of Teocuitatlan was well kept, another sign of community pride and modest affluence. The population of the municipality is a little less than 13,000 people, of which about 1/3 live in the city, the rest in towns, villages and farms around area. About 1/3 of the population consists of children under 14. Mexico is a young country and Teocuitatlan shows it. Agriculture, not surprisingly in this lush valley, is the major economic activity. Sugar cane, sorghum, beans and corn are the major crops. Horses, cattle, pigs, and poultry are typical of the livestock. I have seen all of these crops and livestock at first hand in our various hikes around the Barranca Yerba Buena.

The steeple of San Miguel Archangel parish church rises above the city Plaza. Framed by the lush vegetation and palm trees, the tall steeple is a landmark for miles in every direction. The church dates from the 16th Century. In the middle of the 19th Century, Mexico fought two back-to-back wars which were critical to the future of the country. The first was the Reform War, in which President Benito Juarez, a full blooded Indian, fought to break the power of conservative landowners and the church. The second was against the French, who invaded at the invitation of the losers of the Reform War and installed Maximillian, an Austrian Duke, as Mexico's "Emperor." Juarez, a contemporary and friend of Abraham Lincoln, eventually won. The French were ousted and Emperor Maximillian was executed. Two of the heroes of these wars, Generals Donato Guerra and Ramon Corona, both came from Teocuitatlan. It was Gen. Ramon Corona who accepted Emperor Maximillian's sword when he surrendered in Queretaro.

Sanctuary of San Miguel Archangel was filled with natural light. Often I have trouble with photos in these old colonial churches, which tend toward shadowy dimness. In this case, the design of the church was such that the sanctuary was suffused with soft light.

A side chapel provides for quiet contemplation. Side chapels such as this one form the arms of the cross, while the long room of the sanctuary forms the main axis. Sometimes these side chapels are gaudy with ornamentation and statues of saints or the Virgin. In this case, the design and decorations were simple, but elegant.

We had worked up an appetite for lunch and El Mirador did not disappoint. This is a wonderful restaurant in a great location where I have eaten several times while exploring Lake Chapala's South Shore. There is never a shortage of tables, as you can see above. El Mirador del Marinero (The Sailor's Lookout) sits right on the edge of a bluff, providing a stunning view of Lake Chapala and the mountains that line the North Shore. The restaurant is open-air, simply a large flat spot covered by a palapa (palm frond) roof. There is no glass in the window to separate you from the cool breezes off the lake that come wafting through on a warm afternoon. The food is excellent and more than plentiful. The free hors d'oeuvres were tasty and varied and could have made a meal in themselves. Finally, the price was surprisingly inexpensive. El Mirador del Marinero sits on the Lake side of the road about 1/2 way between Tuxcueca and Tizapan. Definitely worth a stop if you are in the area.

Tall palm sways gently in the afternoon breeze. Teocuitatlan de Corona is another of the many little jewels of the South Shore of Lake Chapala, waiting for the discovery of those who don't mind the less-beaten path. Carole and I have always been intrigued by the unseen "other side of the hill", and drawn to discover its secrets. Here in Mexico, there is nearly always a reward at the end of such a quest.

I hope you enjoyed our little jaunt to Teocuitatlan de Corona. I always enjoy comments from viewers. You can either leave a comment in the section below or email me directly. If you leave a question in the comments section, please be sure you also leave your email address so I can answer.

Hasta luego, Jim


  1. Bueno yo soy de teocuitatlan y estoy ern los angeles gracias por poner estas fotos tengo 6 anos que no voy y esas fotos me trageron muchos recuerdos.

  2. Por nada, Edgar. Lo me hago feliz que te gusta mi photos. Disculpe mi pobre espanol.

  3. Once again, one of your posts has made me feel like I am actually there. Thanks for all your posts, which have given me a much better appreaciation for the region. My wife, Jean, and I will be in Ajijic from mid Jan thru the end of March. We're really looking forward to it.

    By the way, what a nice note from Edgar.

    Thanks again,
    Ron Mullenaux

  4. DEAR Jim and Carole ,i was born in Teocuitatlan and now live in Watsonville Ca.,i love your pictures ,thank you for going to my town ,and for putting them on internet .
    Thanks Abel Godinez

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  6. How safe is it where you are in terms of the drug wars? In getting to Teocuitatlan would I have to journey through dangerous areas?

  7. Dear Anonymous- since you didn't leave your email address, I'll try to answer here and hope you see it. Although some cartel activity has been reported in the past on the road up to Mazamitla,toward the Michoacan line, none has been reported in the area of Teocuitatlan that I am aware of. In any case, the cartel folks do not appear to be interested in expat tourists, but engage in occasional battles with the police or military (or with other cartels). The drive over to Teocuitatlan is very scenic and the small city is quite a treat when you get there. Enjoy yourself!

  8. thank you for posting these pictures my dad is from this town. and it brought me back memories from my childhood, as well nostalgia. i remember how the life over there is lot different from here in the US. its alot simpler and very peaceful.

  9. Beautiful pictures, my mom is from Teocuitatlan , I am living in Oregon y recuerdo cuando Iva al pueblo, tomaba pajarete , la casa de mi mama enfrente de la plaza, y tios, primos. Muchos recuerdos...
    Lolita( Hija de Celina Contreras Sahagun)


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