Saturday, December 31, 2011

Etzatlán Adventure Part 1: Street Scenes

Etzatlán's Presidencia Municipal overlooks the south side of the main plaza. Several months ago, I went with some friends to look for old haciendas. We used a route suggested by Tony Burton in his book Western Mexico, a Traveler's Treasury. A treasury it was, because in it we discovered a jewel: Etzatlán. This small colonial town lies about 2 hours west of my home in Ajijic. I had actually read a little bit about Etzatlán while doing the research for "La Rusa's Gold Mine", one of my blog postings. The book "Quilocho and the Dancing Stars" is, in part, about that gold mine. I discovered that Quilocho Retolaza, one of the main characters, had administered a hacienda near Etzatlán in the 1920s and had regularly visited the town on business and to visit the cantinas with his friends. The description of the town intrigued me, and so did that of ex-Hacienda San Sebastian where Quilocho courted the hacendado's daughter. When I found mention of both Etzatlán and the hacienda in Tony Burton's book, I was hooked. I urged my friends to include it in our hacienda tour, and that is how we discovered our jewel, set in a lush valley surrounded by volcanic mountains. For a Google map of the area, click here.

Statue of Jose Antonio Escobedo, native son of Etzatlán and former Jalisco Governor. Etzatlán figured in many of the most dramatic episodes of the history of Nueva España and Mexico from the very earliest days of the Conquest. To find out about this history, and to see more of my photos of Etzatlán, check out my earlier posting on the town. Escobedo was one of several Jalisco governors who were born here, and the town was briefly used as the state's Capital during the Revolution. I found a good deal of this fascinating history on the municipal government's excellent website. In addition to the town's history, the site covers places to visit, shopping, hotels and cabins, restaurants, fiestas, archaeological sites and much more. Although it is in Spanish, it is relatively easy to follow even for someone who doesn't know that language. I have also discovered that Google has a free browser called Chrome which will translate Spanish-language websites.

Lupita, my contact in the Tourist Office. Lupita speaks no English, so my interactions with her were an adventure in itself. I had to use my rather limited Spanish, about which she was very forgiving. Although my ability to read Spanish is improving rapidly, I confess that some of her emailed responses to my queries left me a bit baffled. Still, she was eager to help and that assistance proved invaluable as our adventure unfolded. Her small office is located on the first floor of the Presidencia Municipal right at the corner of Independencia and Escobedo. There is literature available there about the area, and the binder on the desk next to her is filled with photos and information about interesting sites to visit. One of the most valuable pieces of literature I obtained was "Hacienda de San Sebastian" (cost: $50 pesos--$3.58 USD) a small book written by Carlos E. Parra Ron, the town historian. He includes a wealth of information not only about this nearby historic hacienda, but about the structure and operations of haciendas in general. My Spanish is now at a level where I can follow it pretty well. I was so enthralled with the book that I decided I must meet the author when I next visited Etzatlán.

Plaza de Armas is a green and inviting oasis. Across the cobblestone street from the Presidencia Municipal is the large Plaza de Armas. A recent fiesta accounts for the patriotic streamers draped from the lamp posts. On my first brief visit, we were charmed by the plaza and its surrounding colonial buildings and churches. The area practically sparkled, it was so clean and inviting. I decided immediately that this place deserved another visit. As it happened, I returned twice more. Even so, I have yet to exhaust all the possible things to see and do. For a Google map of the Plaza de Armas area, including the Presidencia Municipal and the Hotel Centenario, click here.

In the center of the plaza stands an elegant kiosco. Broad brick walkways radiate out from the center, dividing lush gardens. Lining the edges of the gardens and the perimeter of the plaza are graceful wrought-iron benches. A mixture of palms and deciduous trees provides cool shade from the bright sun.

The roof of the kiosco perches delicately on iron supports. This is one of the prettiest kioscos I have seen in Mexico. Some have been more elaborate or larger, but few have been as graceful. The lacy iron filigree at the top of the slender pillars is particularly nice. The kiosco was a gift from the French government during the regime of Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz who ruled Mexico from 1876 until the 1910 Revolution.

It's a dog's life. This pooch was deep into a nap when I happened by with my camera. He never opened an eye, although I am sure he knew I was there. It's hard to match the sense of relaxation a dog can convey. Mexico abounds in dogs, including some that are abused or neglected. However, many dogs that foreigners assume are strays are, in fact, someone's pet, whether or not they wear a collar as this one does. The pets tend to be sleeker and somewhat cleaner. Most of the Mexican dog owners I have encountered don't lock up their animals, or keep them on leashes. As a result they tend to be much better socialized to people and other dogs than the pampered and often highly neurotic pooches found north-of-the-border. The down-sides are widespread dog poop and a high incidence of dogs killed or injured by passing cars.

Arched portales line Calle Juarez on the west side of Plaza de Armas. This photo, taken on my first visit, shows white blotches on the yellow wall. These are plaster patches, made in preparation for a fresh paint job. You can tell a lot about a Mexican town by how it takes care of its plaza. The one in Etzatlán gives evidence of great civic pride. The design of this walkway is very old. In the 17th Century, Spanish King Phillip II decreed that such covered walkways should be provided around plazas throughout Nueva España. He wished that those doing business should be protected from sun and rain. Phillip II was the same king who ordered the Spanish Armada to lead the invasion of Queen Elizabeth I's England. His action becomes more understandable when we remember that Queen Elizabeth was sponsoring pirate raids by men such as Sir Francis Drake. They raided Spain's New World colonies, plundering, raping, and murdering everywhere they went. Fortunately, they never reached as far inland as Etzatlán.

The Juarez portales, post-paint-job. On my second visit, I discovered that the portales along Calle Juarez had been painted a pleasing shade of green. Etzatlán, like most Mexican towns, has a plaza that is surrounded by government offices, the Parroquia church, and small businesses like cell phone stores, ice cream shops, etc. Above, my fellow hacienda explorers engage in a bit of window shopping. They are the two tall guys with broad-brimmed hats. Mike is on the left in the shorts, and Dave is on the right in the blue shirt.

The "whatever" store. A little further along was a store I nicknamed the "whatever" store. Want a bird cage? How about a plastic bucket? Maybe a hoola hoop or artificial flowers or a broom? This store has an amazing and eclectic variety of goods. I was attracted to the bright, jumbled colors and the sheer mass of the goods packed together in a relatively small space.

These three pretty girls wanted to try their English on us. They were of high school age and, as I recall, they had some kind of school project that required the use of English. I missed most of the exchange since I had been photographing the colonial Capuchina Convent (to be seen in a future post). They were already walking away when I emerged, so I called them back for a photo, and they were happy to oblige me. I don't believe I saw any other foreigners during my 3 visits to Etzatlán. Everyone treated us with great courtesy and respect, quite royally in fact. People seemed delighted that foreign tourists were interested in their town and definitely wanted to attract more.

Everybody loves a puppy. An older woman was toting this little guy down the street, wrapped in what looked like a diaper. The puppy drew attention where ever she went. Dog-lover that I am, I just had to get a photo of this cutie.

"Tortilla, anyone?" As I passed by this open-front restaurant, I took a quick photo of the women preparing comida, the traditional mid-afternoon meal. I raised my camera and one of the cooks gave me a warm smile and raised a tortilla in salute. The casual warmth of the people here makes Etzatlán a very attractive place.

Look, but don't ride! My eye caught this fine-looking saddle outside a leathershop on Calle Escobedo. Etzatlán is vaquero (cowboy) country, and saddles, boots, and horses are everywhere. The sign on the saddle says "Please, don't mount your children." Apparently many a small, would-be vaquero has persuaded his parents to do just that.

A street musician and his daughter entertain passersby. As I have said more than once in this blog, I love that my life in Mexico is accompanied by a live musical soundtrack. Street musicians are everywhere in Mexico. Often they will be accompanied by an assistant like this young girl who will encourage people like me to contribute. I nearly always do. It's a hard way to make a living and they give great value for the money.

This completes Part 1 of our Etzatlán adventure. Next week we'll take a look at the historic Hotel Centenario, the gorgeous place with a fascinating history where we stayed on my 3rd visit. We'll also sample a few of the excellent restaurants we found. Anyone considering an overnight stay in Etzatlán should find this next posting very useful, as well as being being interesting for the general viewer. If you would like to leave a comment, please do so in the Comments section below, or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim  


  1. Greetings!

    My name is Janie Grillo and I was given information about your blog by Peter Dominguez, son of Elia Domingues who also lives in Ajijic. I understand from Peter that you are friends with Elia. I met Peter when I gave a presentation about monarch butterflies to his Rotary in Aurora, IL. In addition to working for a wholesale plant nursery, I raise and tag monarch butterflies. Peter and another Rotary member, Mr. Gonsalez, have encourage me to visit the butterfly sanctuaries in Mexico, with Mr. Gonzalez even offering his home in Ajijic as a place to stay. Their generosity has been overwhelming!

    I understand from Peter and reading your blog that included among the many travels you have made around Mexico was a visit to the sanctuaries in Morelia. May I ask if you have any major suggestions for making the trip?

    My sister and I plan on visiting during the second full week in February, the 11th - the 18th. We will be flying stand-by (my husband works for American Airlines) from Chicago to Guadalajara. We expect to stay in Ajijic for a couple of days before and after visiting the sanctuaries. As the overwintering sites are about 5 hours from Ajijic, we thought it would make sense to stay 2-3 nights in either Zitacuaro or Angangueo.

    We are taking the advise of many up here and not planning on renting a car but taking a bus from Ajijic to Morealia instead. Do you have any advice in regard to this?

    I hope I am not asking too much; if so I apologize. Any information you could provide would be so greatly appreciated! Making plans long distance is a challenge! Perhaps there is a travel agency in the Ajijic area that handles these types of trips?

    Thank you for any information. I may be reached at


    Janie Grillo

  2. Buenas noches,me interesa la montura qhe esta arriba,como puedo comprarla


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