You’re not really a local resident until you have taken a trip all the way around Lake Chapala. This is a double-dog dare. It’s what hooked me on living on the south shore. There’s really no other way to know the full beauty and majesty of this lake, how different she looks from all angles, until you go. Then you know. From the rivers that pour into its eastern end, the tall craggy cliffs of the southeast, to the fertile loam fields of the southwest and western shore you will be constantly amazed that this is all the same lake. It’s about a hundred miles around, so give yourself plenty of time to enjoy your ride. But how you get yourself around the lake is up to you.
There is a legend of a man named Gregorio who once lived in Ajijic, who rode his beautiful white horse all the way around the lake with a group of his loyal friends. The group and their horses were not in the best of shape, and it took them about ten days, or about ten miles a day. This was a year that the lake was extremely low; it must be done right before the rainy season. The group had many adventures, but the best part of the tale is fording the river where there is no bridge, using ropes to keep the horses from washing out with the current. If you ever run into one of Gregorio’s friends (Gregorio is no longer with us) be sure to ask about the tale, as it grows larger with each telling. The tale ends with Gregorio laughing heartily and then sleeping for three weeks afterwards.
For the truly adventurous at heart, at any time of year, just hop on a local bus pointing towards the next town, and repeat. Just do it. There is always a bus to the next town. Be sure to pack a backpack because you will need to do several overnights. Most towns have one or no hotels. Many travelers tell of gentle townspeople taking them in for the night, or letting them pitch tents on their lawn if you happen to travel with one.
If you have a car, life is easy, just hop in early one morning and drive. The road goes both ways, so pick a direction and go. You’ll probably get lost at some obscure turn but don’t worry, the locals are always ready to help point you back in the right direction. Just be sure to triangulate the directions they give you by asking three different people, otherwise you may end up in Mexico City because they did not want to disappoint you by telling you they’ve never left their village and don’t know how to get to the next town. At the far east end of the lake, from Ocotlan to Cojumatlan de Regules, you will be driving far inland without the lake in sight. This is because the bridges do not cross close to the lake. Just enjoy the countryside.
When I drove around the lake I just used a map and picked the next town as we went along. But now there is a recommended scenic route around Lake Chapala that was developed by the Amigos del Lago. Perhaps you won’t get as lost as we did, but you also may not have as many adventures and meet as many new friends.
For the least adventurous, but still willing to take me up on my double-dare to go around the lake, there is a Charter Club Tour around the lake every Wednesday. You just book your seat and show up early Wednesday morning. You will get the full treatment with an English-speaking guide, lunch at a quaint cafe, and highlights of the architecture and history. Charter Club Tours is located in Ajijic at the main corner of the carretera and Colon in the Plaza Montaña Center. However you choose to do it, GO! Let me know the tales of your own around-the-lake adventure.
Originally published in the Ojo del Lago, http://www.chapala.com/elojo/index.php/130-articles-2013/may-2013/2074-view-from-the-south-shore175