Ajijic -Lago Chapala - Mexico's Largest Lake

Trip Start Dec 27, 2008
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Flag of Mexico  , Central Mexico and Gulf Coast,
Wednesday, December 31, 2008

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First Time Reader? ...... here is the background to this series of blogs
http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/lobo/9/1233502800/tpod.html
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Click on SLIDESHOW and the rectangle in the right corner to see photos in full screen format
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Mexico:  23 Destinations to Spend the Winter Months
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AJIJIC
No.  7 of 23 Destinations (this is not a ranking)
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Ajijic - Lago  Chapala
- Mexico's Largest Lake
Part 2 of 5
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"In addition to pollution it was suffering a fate much worse than that -
it was deep (excuse the pun) in the thralls of an "Aral Sea
experience". The Aral Sea, bordering on Kazakhstan lost 60% of its
surface and 80% of its volume between 1960 and 1998. "

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Upon catching my first glimpse of Lago Chapala I could not have been more surprised by what I saw.

This was not my first visit to the Lago Chapala area since it was no secret in Canada that the climate in the Lago Chapala area made it a great place for year round retirement. It was thus in 2001 during one of my visits to Mexico that I just had to come here and check it out.

That was in my pre-blogging days so there is not really much of that visit that I remember. Poor memory or not, there was one thing that was unforgettable and that was the condition of Lago Chapala. To put it bluntly it was a dying lake.

Now when I think of a dying lake the image that comes to mind is how I remember Lake Erie during my youth (1960's). To enhance the story I would like to call that period of time my "wasted" youth, which would imply all kinds of "interesting" activities. But, alas, mine was not a wasted youth as our family was part of a fundamentalist Protestant church where the most exciting thing that happened on weekends was going on church picnics at Point Pelee National Park. There was no opportunity or time to engage in decadent or "wasted" activities.

Well, if you go to Point Pelee you have no choice but to go swimming in Lake Erie. Back in the 1960's Lake Erie was like an industrial soup that gave new meaning to "pollution". If there was any doubt about that, one only had to look as far as the beach strewn with carcasses of "sheepshead". No don't take that literally, it was a type of large meaty fish (30 cm) that used to be common in Lake Erie.  Along with the carcasses of course was the stench of rotting fish that permeated the beach and the hazard to getting pricked with the needle-like fish bones that where so abundant on the beach.   Looking back on it now it makes we wonder why we even went to the beach and furthermore why would we go swimming.  I can only speculate that formerly, people were less sensitized to pollution and were more willing to put up with it. Furthermore if you went to Point Pelee National Park the beaches with the sheepshead carcasses were the only game in town. In addition there was one incredible attraction and that was the massive waves that Lake Erie would generate. It was so much fun to be bashed about by these huge waves, especially as a kid.

Surprisingly when I went back to Point Pelee thirty years later to see the lake, I found none of the conditions I described above.  Instead it was a relatively clean lake without the sheepsheads.

OK let's get back to Lago Chapala and my comment that it was a dying lake.  In addition to pollution it was suffering a fate much worse than that - it was deep (excuse the pun) in the thralls of an "Aral Sea experience". The Aral Sea, bordering on Kazakhstan lost 60% of its surface and 80% of its volume between 1960 and 1998. The concept is referred to as desiccation and at the time of my visit Lago Chapala was showing all the signs of falling victim to desiccation.

Walking a short distance south along Calle Donato Guerra from the town center of Ajijic will quickly lead to the shores of Lago Chapala. What would a lakeshore be without a  "muelle" or pier? That is the focal point of the waterfront in Ajijic. The pier is only about 100 meters in length but it does lead the pedestrian into the water so to speak. For those who like to linger and savour the moment, there is also a pleasant bar/restaurant on the pier.

When I was there last in 2001, walking to the end of the pier would only get you -well --100 meters closer to nothing. The lakeshore, as incredible as it may seem, was about a kilometre from the end of the dock. Hence my comparison with the Aral Sea; of course the Aral Sea is now much more than a kilometre from its former shores.

Check out some of the photos of the pier in the town of Chapala, located just east of Ajijic. From the end of the pier, it is still a kilometer to the waterline.

http://www.mexconnect.com/en/articles/1568-a-season-of-hope

Since the year 2001, back in Canada, I would read the occasional newspaper story of Lago Chapala and how the dropping water levels on the lake were removing the lustre from the whole region and how there were concerns about water supplies and ground water levels. It was not the stuff made for attracting expats to this region.

But then I more or less forgot about the Lago Chapala region until our return that resulted in the first sentence of this blog - "Upon catching my first glimpse of Lago Chapala I could not have been more surprised as to what I saw".

As my photos show, "desiccation" would be the last word that would come to your mind. On the contrary upon walking out the same "muelle" that I visited in 2001, I notice that there was evidence of sand bagging to keep the high waters out of a nearby picnic area. The water level had been low enough and long enough to allow entire palm trees to grow on the former lake bottom. These same palm trees were now "growing" in water.

So as nature would have it, a lake that was well on the way to dying, had somehow experienced a marvellous recovery which started in the year 2003.

The entire story is well documented at the following websites:

http://www.mexconnect.com/en/articles/1568-a-season-of-hope
http://www.amigosdelago.org/lago/water-e.htm

Now that I have discussed the phenomenal recovery of Lago Chapala, what was our impression of the "new" Lago Chapala as seen from the "muelle" at Ajijic?

Let's put it this way, if you can't be located on the Pacific or Caribbean seashores, the next best thing is lakefront and that is the case with Ajijic, which is Mexico's largest lake. As cute and rustic as the streets of Ajijic are, it is still a pleasure to stroll down to the lakefront of Ajijic and enjoy the stunning view of a large lake framed by the backdrop of huge mountains.

Now is Lago Chapala as pure as Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park? Far from it, it is probably still rife with pollution and the water seems on "phosphate steroids" as the moss green water would indicate an overabundance of algae.

However, according to the following website I seem to be just contributing to false rumours.

http://www.focusonmexico.com/Mexico-Topics/Lake-Chapala-Living/The-Lake.html

Although I have to say, that "safe for wading" does not make for a sparkling endorsement.

If nothing else the lake provides a super vista for spectacular sunsets, as our local sunset enthusiast would attest. That sunset expert would be Barbara. It would be an understatement to say that Barbara finds sunsets electrifying. Barbara has yet to meet a sunset that she would not like to photograph. Sometimes it verges on stressful as we might be driving along somewhere and there is what I consider to be an average sunset and Barbara is just itching to have me stop so that she can take photos.  Anyway the sunset over Lago Chapala obviously did not fall into this category, as the sunset was spectacular and beautifully captured in the attached photos. Come to think of it, when did she take these photos?

Turns out she went down to the lake by herself. That's great news since we, or shall I say, "I" would not have been comfortable with Barbara wandering about by herself in Mexico City or even Aguascalientes. Like I said, Ajijic had a good feel about it.
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Comments/Questions:   travelswithlobo@yahoo.com
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Coming Soon: Ajijic - The Amazing Lake Chapala Society (A blog by Barbara)
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