Around Lake Chapala

by

To get to know the place where we live now, Carol and I arranged a day trip, a “Lake Chapala Tour,” with Charter Tours, a local travel and tour company. They picked us up about 8 AM near our home in Riberas del Pilar. We rode in a comfortable van with one other couple. The day’s trip will take more than 9 hours, so we’ll have a full day.

We started going east, clockwise around Lake Chapala. Our route is shown in the map below. We would be stopping in Ocotlan, Jamay, La Barca, and along the north side of the lake to see pelicans. Other than a couple of trips to Guadalajara, and lakeside drives with friends, we haven’t seen much of Mexico so far, so we’re looking forward to the day.

Around Lake Chapala

After we got through Chapala, we drove past several small towns along the lake. The first is Santa Cruz de la Soledad with about 2,000 residents, on the hill to the left of the road.  Then San Juan Tecomatlan, about 2,000 inhabitants. Then Tlachichilco (with 433 people), and next, Mezcala, with the two church towers visible from the road. Mezcala has about 5,000 residents. A day trip will sometime be warranted to go to Mezcala Island, which you can see rising from Lake Chapala.  Mezcala Island has what might be the last remaining ruins from the sixteenth century, the remains of a Spanish fort. The town of Mezcala also has, besides a good church, an Archeological museum.

Below, a shot of Mezcala. (Image from Chavetas Blog.) You can see the island rising from the lake.

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Passing through the villages there are typical unfinished brick houses. This will be a nice one when completed.

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The street through the village is small, with houses crowding in on both sides.

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One village provides hot water piped to all houses from a local hot spring. First, the water is passed over cooling towers (seen below) to bring its temperature down to that which can be tolerated.

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Next is San Pedro Itzicán by the lake side, with about 5,000 residents.

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Mountains and cliffs rise above the lake.

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A field a dried corn stalks.

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We then headed up over the hills to Poncitlán, where we stopped for a bathroom break.

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Carol was so surprised by the toiler paper dispenser that she had to take its photo. In all our travels we’ve seen nothing like it. You deposit a 1 peso coin and a 2-foot length of paper comes out the slot.

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And some sweet pan, bread. We got some and ate it while we were driving along.

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Ocotlan

Ocotlan is the largest city in the area, with a population of about 100,000.

Ocotlan is considered “the capital of Mexico” for country (wooden) furniture. Their furniture industry is the largest in the nation. There are many showrooms for the factories here. The prices, we are told, are very good. And they will deliver to Ajijic! If we ever need to buy furniture, we will come here to look.

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Naturally, in the middle of Ocotlan there is a plaza with a gazebo in the center.

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On four sides of the central gazebo there are concrete pillars with sculptures of four Mexican culture heroes.

Alvaro Obregon

Alvaro Obregon was a general in the Mexican Revolution, which lasted from 1910-1920, He became the first President of post-revolution Mexico in 1920. Celebrated as a revolutionary and first president, he was assassinated on July 17, 1928 in Mexico City by José de León Toral, a Roman Catholic opposed to the government’s policies on religious matters.

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Obregón’s presidency was the first stable presidency since the Revolution began in 1910. He oversaw massive educational reform, the flourishing of Mexican muralism, moderate land reform, and labor laws sponsored by the increasingly powerful Regional Confederation of Mexican Workers. In August 1923 he signed the Bucareli Treaty that clarified the rights of the Mexican government and U.S. oil interests and brought U.S. diplomatic recognition to his government for the first time.

Cuauhtémoc

Cuauhtémoc was the last Aztec king, from 1520 –1521 (after Montezuma).  Though imprisoned and tortured by the Spanish, he still resisted them. The Spanish hanged him, along with nine others, based on charges of a plot that Cortés, himself, invented. He is now held as the embodiment of indigenist nationalism in Mexico.

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Benito Juarez

Benito Juarez was a Mexican lawyer and politician of Zapotec origin from Oaxaca who served as the president of Mexico for five terms: 1858–1861 as interim, then 1861–1865, 1865–1867, 1867–1871 and 1871–1872 as constitutional president. He resisted the French occupation of Mexico, overthrew the Second Mexican Empire, restored the Republic, and used liberal measures to modernize the country. He was perhaps the biggest political hero of the 100 years between independence from Spain and the revolution.

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Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla

Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla was a Mexican Catholic priest and a leader and hero of the 1810-1821 Mexican War of Independence. He is one of the biggest heroes of Mexican independence. He was executed by the Spanish on July 30, 1811.

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Below, a well-executed sculpture of the ‘founding myth’ of Mexico, the golden eagle, perched on a cactus, eating a snake. This is on the flag of Mexico and on its coat of arms, and the Mexican seal put on all official documents in the country.

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These symbols recall the founding of Mexico City, then called Tenochtitlan. The legend of Tenochtitlan as shown in the original Mexica codices (ancient Mexican books), do not include a snake.

Mexicas were ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the Nahuatl language and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica from the 14th to 16th centuries. The Aztecs were the best known of these people. While the Fejérváry-Mayer codex depicts an eagle attacking a snake, other Mexica illustrations, such as the Codex Mendoza, show only an eagle; in the text of the Ramírez Codex, however, Huitzilopochtli asked the Tenochtitlan people to look for an eagle devouring a snake, perched on an prickly pear cactus. This is the version that is with us today. Below is the Mexican Coat of Arms (which is featured on the Mexican flag. From Wikipedia):

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The eagle was a representation of the sun god Huitzilopochtli, who was very important, as the Mexicas referred to themselves as the “People of the Sun.” The cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica), full of its fruits, called “nochtli” in Nahuatl, represent the island of Tenochtitlan. To the Mexicas, the snake represented wisdom, and it had strong connotations with the god Quetzalcoatl.

A sign shown below gives an overview of Ocotlan: Founded in 1530 by conquistador Nuno Beltran de Guzman. The first church was built in 1537 by Franciscans friars.

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A man with a bullhorn calls out, trying to attract people. I think our guide said he was just a crazy person.

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In front of nearby shops is a row of rides for kids, various kinds of vehicles and creatures for them to ride.

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Below, another sculpture on the plaza, an eagle head with with glaring eyes and  “Libertad” carved into it.  I am surprised that this has not been adopted an a symbol in the US. It seems just our style.

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 The  Ocotlan City Hall (Presidencia Municipal)

Across from the plaza is a fairly nondescript building. It is the city hall.

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When we went into it, though, there was nothing ordinary about it.

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On the ceiling is the largest stained glass window I have ever seen. It was done recently, in 2011 for a cost of 800,000 Mexican pesos (roughly $50,000). It displays Ocotlan history.

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Here comes the cross and the Catholics.

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And the Ocotlan city emblem (which I will explain later).

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It is colorful and beautiful, and tells a story (which I don’t really know). For a more complete view of the sections, go to this link and zoom in on each section.

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On the rear wall, there is another image of the Ocotlan coat of arms. Its shape is inspired by the Aztec Calendar, an important symbol of Mexica culture

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Here is a better drawing of it:

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In the center is a pine tree, making clear the meaning of Ocotlan, through its Nahuatl glyph of a ocote pine tree. Ocotl tlan = ocote and place. it is interpreted as “place of pines or ocotes”.

From the top, clockwise: first is a book and the symbol of the atom, which stands for education and science; next is  a fish in water, raindrops and clean sky, showing natural resources with abundant rain and water. Next is justice, represented with a torch and a scale. Sports and trade follow, signified by the greetings of two hands, and the dove of peace. Agriculture and livestock are represented by an ear of corn, a stalk of wheat and a cow. Finally, in the last frame, are two gears, symbols of the industrial development of the region.

Bomberos are fire fighters. This is a fireman’s truck.

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One thing to do on the plaza is to feed the pigeons.

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Another is to drive the kiddie cars.

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Another is to sleep in the sun.

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Here is another view of the plaza and the city hall. The trees are so well trimmed, to make a kind of formal atmosphere in the plaza.

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Temple of the Lord of Mercy (Templo del Señor de la Misericordia)

The Temple of the Lord of Mercy is the main church in the city. It was rebuilt after a terrible earthquake in 1847. Because of this quake there are few building remaining from earlier days.

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The entrance.

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Catholic churches and cathedrals make such good use of the arch to create grand interior spaces.

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On the walls of the church is a series of very dark paintings, (maybe darkened by 150 years of smoke and incense), that show the rebuilding after the earthquake. It was aided by the appearance of the holy spirit.

From the temple web site:

Everything was terror and fear on that day …  Today, twenty four hours after the unfortunate event, has been between west and north, figured by a cloud like glowing comet, the most perfect image of our Lord Jesus Christ crucified, which lasted half an hour, during which time more than fifteen hundred people who were in the square knelt by act of contrition and crying “Mercy, sir.” Give compassion to see how families are in this town, without even a corner where shelter from the weather, and most reduced to begging and without having to be fed, craftsmen and laborers are without a job.

After this, the local people started to worship the image of the Lord of Mercy.

Here is one of the paintings, the one that shows the appearance of the Lord of Mercy (and thus the name of the church).

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Outside, visible from an open door of the church, is a monument representing the Lord of Mercy, with a height of about twenty meters. This celebrates the appearance of the Lord in 1847.

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Here is the main altar, with a man praying in front of it.

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One of the two side chapels. This one is dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe.

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I like these old wooden doors.

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In corner panels, the painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe shows several scenes from her story.

The panel on the top right shows her appearance. At dawn on December 9, 1531, Juan Diego, an Indian convert, was going to Tlatelolco to attend catechism class and hear the Mass. As he was passing Tepeyac Hill, he saw a brilliant light on the summit and heard the strains of celestial music. Filled with wonder, he stopped. Then he heard a feminine voice asking him to ascend. When he reached the top he saw the Blessed Virgin Mary standing in the midst of a glorious light, in heavenly splendor.

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The panel on the bottom right shows the presentation to the bishop by Juan Diego. When Juan Diego, radiantly happy, stood before Bishop Fray Juan de Zumarraga and told him of his encounter with the Lady, he opened his tilma to show the Bishop the sign (the flowers he had picked for her from a place where no flowers grew); when he opened his cloak the flowers cascaded to the floor – but to the astonishment of the Bishop and Juan Diego, there appeared upon the coarse fabric of the Indian’s mantle a marvelously wrought, exquisitely colored portrait of the Blessed Virgin, just as Juan Diego had previously described her. This has become her symbol, surrounded by a cloak and and array of flowers.

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Fine column heads and gold leaf decoration.

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Out of the church, back to the mundane. Here is a woman’s clothing shop, “California Dreams.”

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We go over a bridge. The river is clogged with floating plants, water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes). This non-native plant is a big problem on Lake Chapala and in surrounding areas.

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We pass a row of food vendors, with umbrellas set out so their customers can sit and eat in the shade.

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Museum of Anthropology and History of OCOTLÁN (MAHO)

A must-do activity when in Ocotlan is the anthropology museum.

This museum was started in 1975 when Mr. Werner Gygax, who had received gifts of a number of locals artifacts, wanted to protect them from being sold on the black market. This collection, while it consisted of 80 good pieces, was not valuable enough to be of interest to any of the major archeological museums, so he decided to build one in Ocotlan. We all benefit from this generosity. It is a good collection.

In the entryway are bones from some ancient beast.

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Inside, the collection has artifacts from the last 4000 years, and from several locations and cultures in and near Jalisco.

I did not take notes while there, so can’t identify items with ages and cultures. I’ll just talk about impressions.

The row of four figures show a kind of reverence for the female. This is common in agricultural cultures; the feminine is procreation and growth, both needed for farming.

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Necklaces and bracelets.

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Pottery figures and arrow and spear heads.

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In the center, a skull.

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A wall chart shows ages and cultures of the artifacts, starting from about 5000 years ago.

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A footed bowl with an animal head.

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In the foreground, a crocodile. The American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) lives in Mexico in ocean areas and connecting streams. They are large, up to 20 feet long. You still read stories of them near Puerto Vallarta warning, “Be careful of crocodiles on the beach.”

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A woman with a pack (a baby?) on her back.

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A footed plate with detailed painted glaze.

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A pregnant woman. This one is exquisite, I think.

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An orange roadrunner is a bird that of this region. This stylized ceramic roadrunner sculpture has been used for the logo of the museum. I sure like it. Can I get one?

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We are out of the Anthropology exhibit and are now in a history section.

Busts are exhibited in a case that show “Heroes of Independence:” Jose Maria Morelos, Miguel Hidalgo and Vicente Guerrero.

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Next to it is a case with, “Heroes of the Revolution:” Francisco Villa, Francisco Madero, Venustiano Carranza, and Emiliano Zapata.

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Zapata.

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Revolutionary riders. Is it Zapata in the center? Looks like he’s got the same moustache.

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Famous photo of revolutionaries in front of a train. I know I have seen this photo before.

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Out on the street, we see a hardware store, packed to the ceiling with goods.

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After Ocotlan it is just a few miles to our next destination.

Jamay

Jamay is a town of about 25,000, about the same size as Chapala. I can find no clear date on when it was found, but there are records of it from 1585. Initial settlers were not Spanish, but were Purépechas, who were one of the largest group of indigenous people in Mexico other than the Aztecs.

The Purépechas were centered in the northwestern region of the Mexican state of Michoacán, but they also occupied some of the lower valleys of both Guanajuato and Jalisco.  They were one of the major pre-Columbian civilizations of Mesoamerica. Their capital city was Tzintzuntzan. Purépecha architecture is noted for step pyramids in the shape of the letter “T.” Pre-Columbian Purépecha artisans made feather mosaics making extensive use of hummingbird feathers which were a highly regarded as luxury goods throughout the region. The Purépecha were never conquered by the Aztec Empire, despite several attempts by the Aztecs to do so, including a fierce war in 1479.

One of the Purépecha rulers, the chief of Cuitzeo, ordered that a settlement be built to protect the nearby river crossing that was frequently raided. The rivers are now known as Lerma, Zula and Santiago. It was a strategic site for the Aborigines, also used by the Spaniards who came from La Barca. This shows some of the breadth of the area controlled by the Purépecha, since they were defending trade routes on the east side of Lake Chapala. So settlement here clearly predates the Spanish.

The first thing we saw after coming into town was a monument.

Monument to Pope Pius IX

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This monument to the memory of Pope Pius IX was built about 1876, by Father José María Zárate and is located in the main square of Jamay. It is about 20 meters high and is made ​​with lime and crushed rock, with carved ornaments of a clay mixture. Among these are niches with sculptures, cherubs, and eagles, and reliefs of the papal shield, geometric decoration, stylized swans, lions’ heads and prows of ships. The last level holds the sculpture of Pope Pius IX (1792-1878) whose term as pope lasted from 1846-1878. Pope Pius IX died on 7 February 1878, aged 85, concluding the longest pontificate in papal history, after that of St Peter. Is is said that Pius IX’s pontificate marks the beginning of the modern papacy. The monument is said to be inspired by a similar one built in Italy.

I cannot find out why this was built. As I researched Pope Pius IX, he did not seem to be a friend to Mexico. One reason why is that he gave permission to the French, under the rule of Napoleon, to conquer Mexico and install as Mexican Emperor Maximilian I.  Emperor Napoleon III of France ordered this after Mexican President Benito Juárez’s suspension of interest payments to foreign countries on 17 July 1861, which angered France, a major creditor of Mexico.

The Mexican Empire (Spanish: Imperio Mexicano) was the name of Mexico under the regime. It was created by the Mexican Congress with the support of Napoleon III of France, who attempted to establish a monarchist ally in the Americas. A referendum confirmed the coronation of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, of the House of Habsburg as Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico. This was very much supported by the moneyed class in Mexico, who were being pressed by Mexican President Benito Juarez for reform.

The US, even though the “Monroe doctrine” to ban European conquests in the Americas was in place, could not act to support Mexico given the US Civil War. (Note that Pius IX was a supporter of the confederacy). After the Civil War was resolved, the US started actively supporting Mexico against France. By 1867,United States Secretary of State William H. Seward shifted American policy from thinly veiled sympathy to the republican government of Juárez to open threat of war to induce a French withdrawal. Seward had invoked the Monroe Doctrine and later stated, in 1868, “The Monroe Doctrine, which eight years ago was merely a theory, is now an irreversible fact.”

A heavy guerrilla resistance led by Benito Juárez eventually expelled the French from Mexico, and Maximilian I was executed in 1867.

The lower level has statues topped by plaques honoring various Catholic notables from the 1800s.

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The next level up.

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The top, with Pope Pus IX. We only photographed his backside though.

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In the plaza is also a bust of Cuauhtémoc with a typical Aztec king’s headdress. He really shows his native background in this portrayal. This is one of four such busts in the plaza, made by sculptor Rafael Ortega Sahagun in 1954.

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There is also a sundial in the plaza. We were here, you see, in the middle of the day. It was donated by the Augustinians in 1766, located in the eastern part of the main square.

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Ruins of the Temple of Mary Magdalene

This was the first Catholic church in Jamay, built by Augustinian friars in 1673, and destroyed in the 1847 earthquake. The ancient temple is in ruins.

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Parish of Our Lady of the Rosary

Its construction took place between 1850 and 1860 with materials from the ruins of the Temple of Mary Magdalene, including tombstones that were removed and can be seen in some of its walls.

This view is from the ruins.

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From straight ahead.

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The entrance, with a worker up on a scaffold.

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The motto above the door is, “Que Terrible Es Este Lugar!!.” This is a quote from Genesis 28:17. In English the full verse is: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” In Spanish: “¡Cuán terrible es este lugar! Esto no es otra cosa sino casa de Dios y puerta del cielo.”

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Beautiful interior of the temple.

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Bans of Marriage

Posted on a wall are the “Bans of Marriage.” These are announcements of engagements, asking if anyone in the community has any objections to the match. I am told these are common in Catholic churches around the world.

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I like the curved angel wings here.

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Main altar.

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Baby Jesus lying down. Where is his manger?

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I don’t know about this statue. What is the story? There MUST be a story.

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Back outside. Behind Jamay there a hill from which you can see Lake Chapala. Naturally there is another church on its top (just like there would be in our beloved India).

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Leaving the city. Seems like a well kept, nice neighborhood.

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More fields of dry corn stalks, with some kind of grain elevator in the background.

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An automobile junk yard. They had them in San Jose, too, when I was young. I think they are gone now there, or hidden behind fences. Here they are out in the open, easy to find if you need a part for an older car.

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We stopped somewhere for lunch, a big place that looked like it was mainly for tourists and visitors. There were romantic paintings from the old days of 19th century Mexico on the walls.

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La Barca

La Barca was next on our tour. It is a city of about 40,000. “La Barca” means “the boat.”

La Barca was started in the early 1500’s as a place to cross the cross the rivers Lerma and Santiago to take goods from Guadalajara to Michoacán. Miguel Hidalgo, after being defeated by Felix Calleja on November 7, 1810, stayed here. La Barca is now famous for its cream, cheese,  Birria (stew) tatemada La Barca style, and their sweet tamarind milk.

When we arrived in town we passed by several families that looked to be leaving maybe a baptism ceremony. One family stopped and posed for a photo.

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Santa Monica Parish, Parroquia Santa Monica

Parroquia Santa Monica is the main church in La Barca. This was built by the Augustinians starting in 1780 and ended in 1797. Somehow it survived the quake of 1847 and still stands today. It was closed when we visited, so we did not get any interior photos.

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Frontal view of the church.

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The city around the plaza.

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Walking through a Spanish-style archway, we came to a famous museum, La Morena.

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Museum “La Morena”

The main attraction of the museum is 28 paintings on the walls of the four corridors of the main courtyard. These were done by the Jalisco painter Gerardo Suarez, who was one of the three painters that painted the ceiling at the Delgado Theater in Guadalajara, that shows the fourth Circle of Dante’s Divine Comedy. The La Morena murals were based on lithographs by Casimiro Castro, published in 1855.

The “farm house” is known as La Morena, “the house of the Moorish lady” (the builder’s wife). It is an architectural gem that sits on the side of the plaza of La Barca. It was built in 1855.

The building was built by General Francisco Velarde. He was a legendary character from a rich Guadalajara family whose remaining legacy now demonstrates to many people the extravagance and splendor in which he lived.  He was called “Golden Burro” (El Burro de Oro) because he had so many doubloons, golden coins. It is said that he, wearing boots with gold heels, had fifty women who would walk dressed in identical suits, wearing boots with golden botonaduras (sets of buttons) all exactly the same. He was very handsome and hated indolence, and had a scar on his neck that kept him from turning to the right. He owned the whole of La Barca. La Morena was his “farm house.” Velarde was also a big supporter of Emperor Maximillian I.

This is the interior court that is lined with paintings.

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The photo below shows a reproduction of the original lithograph by Casimiro Castro. This is named, “Plaza de Santo Domingo.”

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Another print, “The ‘Salto del agua’ fountain.”

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Below, a detail from the actual mural.

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Mural, “Boat ride at Xochimilco Mexico.”

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The Swing. This mural was reproduced on the wall of the restaurant that we ate in.

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Pilgrimage to celebrate the Virgin.

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A laborer.

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Getting fresh milk for the kid.

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Countryside lifestyle.

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A humorous depiction of a boy with a mouse.

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This is said to be the best exhibition of scenes from Mexico of the 1800s.

The view of the plaza from the front porch of La Morena.

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Miguel Hidalgo image on the plaza.

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Happy boy getting his shoes shined on the plaza.

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What? We are leaving Jalisco and entering the state of Michoacán! I didn’t know that we were so close to the neighboring state!

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The lake, from the south side.

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Petalan

Reaching the south shore of the lake, our next stop is at Petalan, known as a winter haven for migrating pelicans. We drove down a dirt road towards the lake.

The first birds we see are cranes, perched atop small trees.

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When we get close to the lake we see crates full of dead fish. These have already been ‘processed’ by the fish cutting ladies, and await pickup by the local fertilizer company.

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Looking out on the lake we see cranes, but no pelicans. We’re told they’re delayed this year, maybe as a result of climate change.

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Women cutting fillets from these small fish.

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One woman, many fish. She’s checking her phone. Hope it doesn’t also smell of fish!

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The water plants are clogged with dead fish. If the pelicans were here, maybe all the fish would be eaten.

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Fish cutters under a tree.

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Cutting fish on the porch of their house. It is about 3 in the afternoon. The men, I am sure, were out from dawn catching these fish. I did not see any nets, but I bet that is the only way they can catch so many. The lake is pretty productive, and I understand now that it is clean, so the fish should be good eating.

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After Petalan there was a long stretch of road without any stops. Finally we are nearing the west end of the lake. We’re entering one of the areas where the raspberries and blackberries are grown. Plastic covers shelter the fruit from the hot sun.

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We stopped somewhere for a last break, but we didn’t get the name of the place. This is somewhere before turning into the west end of the lake. The plaza has a great tree.

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And a good gazebo.

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City hall.

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People eating at a food stand.

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Finally we reach Jocotepec, known as a fruit-growing area. This cross and fruit display is there. We are getting close to Ajijic now, after a 9-hour trip.

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On a hillside east of Jocotepec, houses climb up the hill, pretty dense housing. I wonder if developments like this are in the future for Ajijic? I hope not, but this place keeps growing. With the lake on one side, up the hills is the only way to grow.

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This started as a trip around the lake. While on the trip one thing I saw were the many monuments to Mexican heroes, like Cuauhtémoc, Hidalgo, Juarez, and  Zapata. I think we are seeing parts of the current Mexican myths. In all cultures, myths are the stories we tell ourselves that identify who we are and what we believe. The myths are more complicated in Mexico because of the conquest by the Spaniards about 500 years ago, and the suppression of the indigenous cultures by the Spanish and especially the Catholic church.

Shadows of these myths still exist within festivals like The Day of the Dead, but the more prominent cultural stories now are about how the Mexicans overthrew their conquerors and became a strong nation of their own. Cuauhtémoc and Hidalgo tell of resistance, then overcoming the Spanish, to break free of the conquerors. Juarez and Zapata speak of revolutionary zeal, taking power from the rich and privileged and spreading it to all the people of Mexico. I think this revolutionary spirit still lives in Mexico, supported very much by these Mexican myths.

It was an interesting journey today. Some of the places we visited, like Ocotlan, seem worth going to again. This was a good day of exploration!

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2 Responses to “Around Lake Chapala”

  1. abrahammathew75 Says:

    Richard…..you can easily make a living working on Travel & Living or Discovery channel documentaries…amazing stuff.

    • Richard Clarke Says:

      One reason that I write these stories is so that I can get to know better the places and history that we are fortunate enough to see and experience. I am really happy that you enjoy it too, and find it worthwhile and interesting. Thank you.

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