A Visit to Don Otavio’s

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For those who want to try a tiny adventure to the south shore, make a pilgrimage to the Hacienda San Martin, only a couple of miles south of Jocotepec. This private hacienda is reputedly the location of Sybille Bedford’s classic 1953 semi-fictional story of a trip to Lake Chapala, “A Visit to Don Otavio: A Traveler’s Tale of Mexico.” Bedford disguises many of the details of her travels including the name of her travel companion, known only as “E.” as they have fairly wild times for their day, taking the train all about Mexico and finally landing in Chapala. She refers to the hacienda as “Hacienda San Pedro” and indeed only a few miles further south is San Pedro Tesistan. Bedford also describes rowing herself and E. from the Hacienda to Jocotepec, and taking a 45-minute burro ride to Jocotepec.

This hacienda was built in the 1700’s and its holdings once comprised all of the southwest side of Lake Chapala from Jocotepec to San Pedro. In 1733, San Martin was listed in a historical text as a major producer of grain, according to El Informador. A tequila factory and tavern once stood on the grounds, and a private chapel is still intact today.

“A Visit to Don Otavio” was called “The best travel book of the twentieth century” by English travel writer Bruce Chatwin. It is a slice of life at Lake Chapala circa 1950. Most travel from Chapala to Ajijic or Jocotepec was done by boat, as the road through San Antonio Tlayacapan and Ajijic was a deeply rutted burro track. A boat is supposed to be waiting at the Chapala pier. But the boat never arrives, so Bedford and her traveling companion hitch a ride in a burro cart. The short stretch of Ajijic is said to be the only civilized section along the burro track, actually having cobblestones for the short stretch that should now be Ocampo.

After they settle in, the order of the day seems to be playing bridge and gossiping with and about the other expatriates. Don Otavio’s father lost all the hacienda’s land in the Revolution, so Otavio’s passion is to get the burro track replaced with a good road around the lake, and turn the hacienda into a hotel. The “road from Chapala… was voted seventy years ago [the 1880’s]. The money was raised twenty-three times… it always vanished in some way or another. Even Otavio’s papa [a former governor of Jalisco] couldn’t do anything about it.”

Bedford was a cultured, multi-lingual woman from Europe whose neighbor and friend was Aldous Huxley. She wrote a number of books including Huxley’s authorized biography. Bedford may have shrouded her travelogue in mystery because, she revealed later in life, she was bisexual. Her companion “E” may also have been the daughter of a former U.S. President. Bedford died at the age of 95 in 2006. Her book has been re-issued several times, most recently in 2003.

Today the highway passes so close to the once-famous hacienda that it can be seen from the road, but the hotel was never built. It has had several private owners since the 1970’s. To get to the Hacienda San Martin, take the main road through Jocotepec to the large intersection with MX 15 (the road around the lake) and turn left. In a couple of miles you will see a small green highway sign “San Martin” and you will see the hacienda. Still with tall, tall palm trees as Bedford described.

El Informador: http://bit.ly/don-otavio

A Visit to Don Otavio on Amazon.com: http://bit.ly/visit-don-otavio

This column originally published in El Ojo del Lago, http://chapala.com/elojo/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2035%3Aview-from-the-south-shore-april-2013&catid=128%3Aapril-2013&Itemid=159