Visiting the Guadalajara / Lake Chapala area was really special in so many ways. Of all the places we’ve visited in the last few months, this turned out to be Jorge’s favorite place of all. Interestingly, this is the area his mom and dad are from. His parents met in Tijuana, but they both come from small towns on the outskirts of Guadalajara. Jorge had never seen the towns his parents came from, until now.
Zapotitán de Hidalgo is the town Jorge’s mom is from. It is located in the state of Jalisco, just outside Guadalajara, and very close to the shore of Lake Chapala. It’s a farming town of approximately 460 people. Jorge has never met the family members from Zapotitán de Hidalgo, so we were looking forward to going there and meeting them for the first time. His mom said to just go to the town and ask anyone where the Martinez / Flores family lives. I told him he should call first, but he said it wasn’t necessary. Cultural difference, for sure! So we rolled into town and within a few minutes we were directed to the home of Elena, Jorge’s moms’ cousin. She wasn’t expecting us, but when she found out who Jorge was, she invited us into her house. She told us that her house was the home Jorge’s Great Grandma grew up in. She showed us around the house, and quickly offered to take us around to meet the family. So she got in our truck and took us house to house. As we drove she stopped people on the street, who just happened to be Jorge’s great cousin or great aunt. As we stopped at the various houses, I was touched by how warm and hospitable his family was; especially since they had no idea we were coming.
Elena and her sister, Chata, invited us to come back again for the day, to meet more of the family. So in a couple days we returned at 9:00 am. They had breakfast made for us and Jorge had time to ask some questions about the family. Later Elena took us around again to meet more people.
One of the most poignant meetings was when Elena took us to meet Jorge’s Grandpa’s sister, Maria Flores. We heard she was very petite and had a big personality in her day. She wasn’t expecting us when we arrived. She lived with her daughter and grandchildren in a small brick house. As we approached the front door we saw a woman of 90+ years sitting in a chair directly in front of the open front door. She was very little, and very cute. She wore pants, a couple sweaters, and was covered by a blanket. Elena told her who Jorge was, and she looked up at him, quite taken aback. Jorge kneeled down so she could see his face, and reached for her hand. Her eyes were wide with surprise, and she stared into his face in silence for a moment. She was shaking a little, and a couple tears rolled down her cheeks. She asked if he had come from Tijuana, and then said how much she hated Tijuana and everyone laughed. She asked about her late brother (Jorge’s grandpa), and they talked about him and other people. At the end of the visit Maria’s tears flowed. Everyone in the small room who had gathered around to see the reunion was teary as well, to see her reaction to meeting her brother’s grandson.
The whole visit with his family was such a highlight. Chata prepared Albondigas soup and tortillas for dinner before we left that evening. They really rolled out the red carpet and made us feel so special. Photos of Jorge's family and some of their animals below.
It was really interesting being in the town and visiting the family at their homes. Since I have known Jorge’s mom for the last 15 years, I loved seeing where she had come from. I hope to tell her about it in person when we return. I should be finally able to speak to her in Spanish, instead of relying on someone to translate everything for me. It was also an opportunity to get a closer look into their culture that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
We stayed Roca Azul RV Park on the shore of Lake Chapala, next to the town of Jocotepec. A couple photos from Jocotepec below.
Roca Azul - www.roca-azul.com
For $13/day they offered a gigantic swimming pool, two thermal pools, a well-manicured soccer field, club house, picnic area, volleyball courts, and a few options for RV parking. This was the first place we had American neighbors. There were two American couples, an angry, single American man, and a German couple close to our RV spot.
Jan and Bob from Oregon were the couple directly across from us. It was such a pleasure to meet them and talk with them. I was surprised at how happy I was to connect with people from home (US). I believe they have been living in the park for 4 years. Bob told me that all he knew about Mexico was that it was really dangerous. At some point they had an opportunity to go to San Felipe (Baja), and they loved it. They realized Mexico was nothing like they had heard – so they ended up to moving to central Mexico! It is just crazy how life unfolds. They enjoy the mild weather, the friendly Mexican people and the low cost of living. Roca Azul allows their long term residents do whatever they want to their RV spot, so many have installed covered patios and put in some nice landscaping. Jan and Bob had made their space very comfortable and pretty with their outdoor kitchen and patio, and pretty plants and flowers around their space.
A couple days before we left the area, a man named Jack rolled into the RV Park. He was driving a gigantic, dated motor home with American plates, and towing a beat up minivan. I was astounded when I found out that he was 84 years old, and in a wheelchair! I was even more floored to discover he had driven all the way from Oregon, and he had never stepped foot into Mexico until now. He told me later that this was his last move, and he planned to live out his life in Mexico.
Once he pulled into the park he didn’t get out of his motor home for a couple days. He was too exhausted from the trip. Apparently he traveled with a 20 lb cat, but the cat disappeared along the way. He told the employees at the park that he needed a ramp built, and would like to hire a caregiver. Oh, and he also needed a mechanic to fix his side mirror that was torn off along the trip, and to repair the flat tire on the trailer towing his minivan. As a testament to the accommodating nature of the people in this country, they worked hard to get him everything he requested. Bob and Jan also were ready to help with anything they could.
I was excited to check out Guadalajara, which was about an hour from the RV Park. We actually went a few times. It was crowded, old and interesting. On one visit we parked the truck outside of the central zone, and biked in. It was fun weaving through all the cars and crowded streets. We visited the cathedral and the four plazas surrounding it. I just HAD to take a horse and carriage ride around the city. We paid $15 for an hour ride with a very pleasant cowboy who pointed out all the sites. It was just a really nice way to sit back and just take it all in.
We also visited Mercado San Juan de Dios, the largest indoor market in Latin America. When I first saw it I thought it looked a little scary, like a concrete parking garage, crammed with people. A place I could easily get lost, and not in a good way. I told Jorge if we went in we might not make it out alive, but I wanted to see it. You can’t just pass it up. So we ventured in and enjoyed the whole experience. I think they had an entire floor of shoes. There were millions of kids backpacks for sale, clothes, electronics, horse saddles, pots and pans, baskets, dishes, toys, soccer shirts, fruits and vegetables, raw meats, cheeses, spices, wallets, fly swatters, jewelry, and lots of cooked food! It went on and on for days.
That evening we found our bikes just as it started to rain. We rode out of the city center in a complete down pour. My tire went flat about half way to the truck, as I followed Jorge. I didn’t bother stopping or telling Jorge, I just kept riding because I wanted to get to the truck and rest my aching feet.
Lake Chapala turned out to be everything and more for us! It is 50 miles long, and surrounded by green mountains and little towns. There are houses and open air restaurants along the perimeter, but it is far from over crowded. On any day you will see a horse or cattle grazing along the shore. The lake was wide open, with very few boats. We mostly saw fisherman on wooden row boats not far from shore. One day we saw three young boys (probably about 10 years old), and a dog, out rowing an old wooden boat. They were fishing, but hadn’t caught anything yet. Of course Jorge had to joke around with them. They were so cute. One kid had an old, tattered fedora hat on. I wish I could have taken a photo to remember them.
Shortly after arriving at Roca Azul, we looked for a restaurant where we planned to ask if we could leave our kayak and paddleboard. It might sound like a strange thing to ask, but it isn’t strange in Mexico. It would be much more convenient to paddle if we didn’t have to unload and load them on the truck every time we wanted to go out. So we found a nice restaurant on the lake, we ate breakfast and asked the owner if we could leave on boats there. Of course, he had no problem with that! So we left our board and kayak, and it worked out perfectly. Paddling on Lake Chapala was really special, and PJ enjoyed riding with us and swimming in fresh water for a change.
We visited Ajijic, which is a town full of Canadian expats. They have many nice shops, and even more fabulous restaurants hidden behind half open doors facing the narrow cobblestone streets. A couple photos below...
In the mountains opposite Ajijic are tons of hiking trails. We found a trail that we heard had a waterfall so we headed up the mountain. We crossed a creek several times, making our way up. I expected water since it was the rainy season, but I didn’t expect to see a large waterfall since the creek wasn’t too large. After about 30 minutes we arrived at a high, gorgeous waterfall. It was a beautiful sight. As we continued to climb, we came to several waterfalls. Unexpectedly, it was one of the nicest hikes I’ve been on in years.
As I write this blog, we have moved on to Guanajuato. We’ve been exploring and oh, I have so much to tell! It may be the most beautiful, charming city I have ever been to. I’ll keep you posted…..