Since I moved here four and a half years ago, I have made many trips around/along the south shore of Lake Chapala. I’ve gone with old friends for fiestas and with new friends and my son to show them there’s more to life around the lake than living in the gringo enclaves on the north shore.
On Friday, 9 November, I took one of my “blog friends” Gaby to Sahuayo (see it there in the lower right-hand corner?). Gaby (from Portland, Oregon) has been commenting on my blog almost from the beginning, and then we started emailing back and forth because she had lots of questions about moving down here.
Gaby is now about ready to retire and she’s trying to decide if the Lake Chapala area is right for her. She’s visited here for a week or two several times, but this time she’s here for at least two months, and I felt it was important for her to see what the area around Lake Chapala offers aside from the expat-heavy areas from Chapala to Jocotepec.
So off we set from my house in Joco this past Friday morning about 9AM. We headed east on Highway 15, the same highway that takes you from Nogales, Arizona, to Guadalajara and Lake Chapala, and then on to Morelia, Michoacan, and eventually to Mexico City (shown as DF on this map).
Driving from Jocotepec to Sahuayo, it’s hard to believe you’re on a federal highway. I mean federal highways (like interstates in the U.S.) are supposed to be multi-laned with high speed limits; right?
Well, not here in Mexico! Highway 15 is a two-lane, quite narrow road from its turnoff just south of Guadalajara to at least Zamora, which is about as far as I’ve been on it. In the map above, it may look like a straight shot, but, trust me, it’s not. It twists and turns and has no shoulders for much of the way.
However, it’s still a federal highway and so it’s loaded with buses and trucks. But that’s just something you need to account for and put up with to get to Sahuayo.
After Gaby and I returned from our jaunt today, I told her that she had probably seen more of the south side of Lake Chapala than 80% of the expats who live up here on the north side of the lake. After giving it some thought, I realized that I had probably made a mistake and corrected that number to 90%.
I suggested that she drop the names of some of the villages we had seen on our trip (San Cristobal Zapotitlan, San Luis Soyatlan, Tizapan el Alto, Petatan, Cojumatlan, and Sahuayo) into any conversation with gringos and see how many responded to them. As it turned out, she didn’t even have to wait to talk to the gringos. When she got back to the gated community in which she is staying, she mentioned to the Mexican guys at the gate where she had been that day.
And, having done that, this is what she wrote me: “The older guy knew the names of the towns as I said them. The younger guys? No clue…the older guy had to tell them. He was saying how much more dangerous it was to drive on the South side, explaining that it was only a two-lane road, with major bus/freight lines. He told them NOT to drive there unless they knew what they were doing!”
So I guess even the local folks are leery of driving over there!
But Gaby and I had a great time, as I always do when I head to Sahuayo. We first made a short detour into my old pueblo of San Cristobal Zapotitlan. I lived in a little casita there for 18 months. It was right on the lake and I loved the little place.
We then stayed on Highway 15 through San Luis Soyatlan and Tizapan el Alto, both in Jalisco state, until we made the turn into Petatan, Michoacan, to see if any pelicans had arrived. In January and February, Petatan (population maybe 500 folks) has thousands of American White Pelican visitors. In early November, there are normally not too many of them there, but Gaby and I saw plenty.
And there were even more in a little inlet just off the malecon where we were (look over to the left in the photo below):
One of the things that Gaby commented on was how a house like the one above would have been all fixed up and sold for some ridiculous price in the U.S. And she’s absolutely right. It’s amazing how little development there is around the south side (and even most of the north side) of Lake Chapala.
On a huge lake like this, with pretty much ideal weather year-round, you’d find huge hotels and expensive restaurants on the waterfront. Here, for the most part, you find a house like the one above if you find any development at all.
Leaving the little pueblo of Petatan, we headed on into the slightly larger pueblo of Cojumatlan that contains one of my favorite churches hereabouts. (You can check it out in one of my earlier blogs. Just type in Cojumatlan in the “Search Blog” box above.) And it was in Cojumatlan that my absolute favorite happening on our trip around the south shore of the lake occurred.
My first trip to Cojumatlan was about four years ago. On that day, my three friends and I saw a little old woman walking across the plaza, carrying a load of firewood on her hunched back. This occurred about six months after I had moved here and I remember thinking that this was very reminiscent of things I had seen on the Navajo reservation when I worked in northeastern Arizona….old folks just doing what they had to do.
But this past Friday, when Gaby and I were in Cojumatlan, the same little old woman was standing outside the church when we exited. She and I were both going to use the ramp instead of the steps leading into and out of the church, but she motioned me to come down first so I did.
When I got to the bottom of the ramp, she grabbed my hand, shook it, and said “My friend, it’s so good to see you again. It’s been a long time!” Now I must admit that I’m probably one of the gringas that has most frequented her pueblo and her church. On every trip along the south shore of Lake Chapala, I make it a point to stop in Cojumatlan to “show off” the church, the plaza, and the mercado. I love the little pueblo and think that everyone should see it.
But even I was flabbergasted that the old woman might recognize me. Oh, sure, it’s possible that she had me mixed up with or combined with some other gringas, but I don’t think so. Even Gaby, whose Spanish is so much better than mine, was totally convinced that the little old lady and I had “history.” Either way, it was a delightful meeting for me, and hopefully for her.
About 15 miles past Cojumatlan, we entered the city of Sahuayo. This is a large city and the one to which I try to go every July for the Tlahualilies parade. (Again, if you are interested, just use the Search box above and type in Sahuayo or Tlahualiles.) But there were no parades when Gaby and I went and I was kind of hoping to do some shopping. But that was not to be.
Apparently Fridays are tianguis day in Sahuayo and the traffic was crazy! There wasn’t a parking space to be found around the plaza or for many blocks around it. While I was sorry that we didn’t get to stop and go shopping, I was happy to see how busy the place was.
But the one thing that I really, really wanted to do was to have lunch in Sahuayo at one of my favorite restaurants in all of Michoacan, Chelies Carnitas. And so we did! Carnitas, if you don’t know, are roasted pork served with tortillas and limes, as well as salsa and garnishments.
The meat at Chelies is absolutely fabulous and for garnishments, they serve up some great, spicy stuff like carrots with jalapeno peppers, and the peppers themselves.
You order the meat by the kilo or half-kilo and you get all the garnishments and tortillas with it. Gaby and I got half a kilo of pork (1.1 pounds) for 100 peos (about $7.60US) and absolutely STUFFED ourselves.
And, you know what? We didn’t even mind not shopping!
So if you’re living or visiting the Lake Chapala area, I really cannot recommend highly enough Chelies Carnitas in Sahuayo! Go, my friends, and stuff yourselves, too!