|Sunrise view from Jocotepec overlooking Lake Chapala|
Nearly a decade ago I was told of a place with perfect weather and a community that was said to be the largest accumulation of American expats in the world. For many years since I have been flying in and out of Guadalajara confined by a time schedule that never allowed me to take the short trip south to visit this destination. But last week’s trip was different and after saying goodbye to my group at the Guadalajara International Airport I drove thirty minutes south and ended up on the north shore of Mexico’s largest lake, Chapala.
The surface area of Lake Chapala is nearly three times greater than Lake Tahoe and the towns on the shores surrounding the lake are filled with fascinating history. There are towns known for manufacturing Huarache sandals. Towns known for berry farming and even an island that was one of the last strong holds defending against the Spanish invasion in the early 1800’s. Isla del Presido was originally called Isla Mezcala and became a prison many years later because of its isolation in the middle of the lake and its geographical isolation similar to Alcatraz. The prison no longer exists and is now, just like Alcatraz has become a remote tourist attraction.
The side trip to Chapala was a little spontaneous and I didn’t do a great deal of research about this region. I decided that morning that I would let my intentions be known to a random list of emails and let the universe guide me in the right direction. I only had two days to explore and my only criteria was to start in the small town of Jocotepec.
The expat population is spread out over 30 Kilometers across the north shore of the lake. The town of Chapala is a direct shot from the airport by car and Ajijic is the first town to the west. Ajijic (pronounced A-He-Heek) is the largest concentration of Americans and Canadians living in the ideal climate that the region provides. Going west you drive on a paved two lane road through San Juan Cosala passing restaurants and small hotels built along the waters edge that reminded me of the roads along the shores of Pacific Ocean coastal towns.
I had made arrangements to stay at Los Dos, a bed and breakfast run by Phyllis Rauch just less than a mile from the center of town. Along with her late husband Georg Rauch, the two moved to this region in the 1970’s and carved out an incredible and simplistic oasis in the hill side over looking Jocotepec.
|The entrance to Los Dos B&B|
Immediately upon arrival to Los Dos B&B I was aware that Phyllis had a love for gardening. Succulents, trees and vines with flowers cover the property and random trays of young plants were scattered around the grounds waiting for their placement in the fertile soil. Los Dos expands over an acre (4000 square meters) with a nice size pool and a communal area that gives both a sense of space and privacy. It is a beautiful forty year work in progress. Through the leaves and flowers of the trees there are views of the west end of Lake Chapala from several vantage points around the property.
|The view from Los Dos|
Los Dos has four units for rent with accommodation for families, couples and singles looking for a little peace and quiet off the beaten path. I stayed in the Aerie Deluxe Casita. There was a fresh pitcher of aqua fresco waiting for me when I came through the door, a nice touch. The ground floor is a fully equipped kitchen and the bedroom takes up the top floor with a king sized bed, a desk and closet space. I loved the balcony and the peaceful view. I sat there for thirty minutes just taking it all in. Immediately I knew I was going to like this place.
|Comfortable bedroom in Los Dos|
The town center is just a twenty minute walk down the hill through narrow cobble stone streets. Small block houses that are always active with locals going about daily life line the streets. The town is very small, about two square miles and just like other old Mexican towns it is built around the town plaza and the main church. In this town the church is made of local canterra stone with a color I have never seen in a building thus far in Mexico. Rocks of really obscure deep red and pink is the best way I can describe the color.
|The church in Jocotepec|
It was Monday evening when I arrived in Jocotepec and the plaza was alive with kids and families all socializing in the square. A loud, well-practiced Banda band made up of what looked like college students churned the energy and I thoroughly enjoyed being the only gringo in the town plaza listening to the free concert as the day ended and the light faded.
|Street food in Jocotepec|
My request for a place to eat with veggies on the menu lead me to a restaurant just off the town square called El Rincon de Frida’s. The front door is surrounded with limbs and leaves of a small tree and a light illuminates a tiny sign marking the entrance. The restaurant is not very big, in fact it’s about the size of a small café or coffee shop in the US but what it lacks in space it makes up for in decor, ambiance and style. The young owner German Gonzales opened the doors four years ago after spending time in San Francisco and Los Angeles. He returned to his home town and brought a gastronomical flare he learned in the north to this small Mexican village and it works well, very well, I loved the place. The food presentation matches the style he has achieved in the small space and half of the eight tables were filled with low lighting and conversation.
|El Rincon de Frida’s|
|My meal at El Rincon de Frida’s|
I had ham and potato soup, a fresh greens salad with goat cheese, apples and generous pieces of perfectly cooked chicken and a large fresh strawberry margarita and it was all delicious. The meal filled me up, in fact I shouldn’t have finished everything but it was so damn good. Total cost – with tip, $9.00 US!
|Delicious street food in Jocotepec|
I wondered back across the cobble stone streets and though my belly was full the smell of chorizo and onions simmering on a street corner could not be passed. I walked in an olfactory trance and against better judgment I ordered one more item of food to dance across my taste buds. One small street taco filled with chorizo, onions, cilantro and fresh pico de gallo. I stood there eating my three bite $.65US taco, conversing with the family members running the show, positively glowing with happiness. I stopped for a quick shot of tequila across the street at Piedritas Restaurant and Bar, had a brief chat with the bartender and then made my way back through town.
By now the clock had moved with nearly unnoticeable pace to 10:30 PM and I made my way through the grid of narrow streets back towards Los Dos. I smiled as I passed a group of teenagers talking and laughing in conversation standing in the door way of one of the small stone built homes. I was smiling because there were two horses standing idle with full saddle and bridal waiting for the owners that were no doubt part of the group of boys. I thought how different and cool it must be to ride your horse to a friend’s house for the evening. I made it up the hill and through the gates of Los Dos, landed in a nice big comfortable bed and fell asleep quickly watching the sheer white drapes dance in the light breeze. The temperature was perfect and at that moment so was my life.
|Early morning exercise|
|Kid's water park|
I woke the next morning completely refreshed. The blue light of day was just starting to pierce the gray sky, I dressed quickly and headed down to the Malecon (beachfront boardwalk). Five minutes later I was in the parking lot and surprised at how many people had arrived before me and were exercising in the coolness of the dawn. Groups of people, two’s, three’s and five’s were moving and walking. Crude, simple but efficient exercise equipment like rowing machines, stationary bicycles and sit up benches were lined up in the grass. I was still the only gringo in town and was greeted by every person on the path with a smile and a “Buenos dias.”
At the Jocotepec malecon there is a soccer field with well manicured grass complete with stadium style lights. Just outside the chain linked fence that surrounds the soccer field is a park with at least a dozen simple BBQ’s made of local stone and it was obvious a big soccer match here would draw a great crowd. At the other end of the field, just outside the fence is a children’s playground and all the swings, slides and climbing towers end in a pool of six inches of water. I would love to see this area during an event in full swing, it must be like Disneyland and one of the happiest places on earth.
|Phyllis & Mari|
|A healthy breakfast at Los Dos B&B|
I had a 9:30 AM appointment with Phyllis Rauch back at Los Dos and made my way back up the hill through the small matchbox house neighborhood and cleaned up for breakfast. I was graciously invited into her house and was greeted with smiles from Phyliss and her right hand woman Mari (pronounced Mar-ee). We ended up at a table on the spacious veranda overlooking the property and further across the lake to the southern mountains. My favorite fruit, papaya, pineapple and mango was prepared and waiting with granola, yogurt, toast and fresh coffee. Phyllis sat down with one of her four dogs on her lap and I started with a question that must have been asked a hundred times previously. “So how did you end up in Jocotepec?”.
|Los Dos owner Phyllis Rauch|
A young girl from a north eastern town in Ohio crossed paths with a charming and handsome artist from Austria with four decades of history that would sweep any women off her feet. Phyllis was introduced to Georg Rauch in Vienna, Austria by his cousin and a love affair and a life of adventure ensued. After a few years together the two were living in New York, living the life of the struggling artist, Phyllis a writer and Georg a painter/sculptor. One day on a walk from 72nd street, where the couple lived, to Greenwich the two were discussing their financial predicament when the painter placed his hands on the young girls shoulders and with confidence and assurance he said “if we go to Mexico we will return with more money than we have now.” The young girl was wrapped in the painter’s aura and believed in him for good reason. Soon after the young girl from Ohio moved to Jocotepec and so did her heart and the simple lakeside town become home, unequivocally.
|Georg & Phyllis Rauch|
The couple was eventually able to buy a substantial piece of property from a friend and building began. First a small house, then a small studio and Georg became absorbed in his painting inspired by the surroundings and the people of Jocotepec. The couple befriended many of the townspeople and lived a simple life filled with experiences that most will only dream. Through my conversation that morning I was well aware of the admiration Phyllis had for her Georg and that the painter thought the world of this woman. After ten years the felling of absence for her husband was evident and although years have moved through her body gracefully her mind is strong and her eyes remain blue and youthful. If it is true that the eyes are the pathway to the soul her soul has never aged and remains playful and optimistic.
Our meeting lasted nearly 3 hours longer than I had scheduled but I was happy and intrigued to hear the details of her life and could have stayed longer asking more questions. Phyllis’ story is about as romantic as it gets and I hope someday she turns her experiences into a novel just as her husband has done writing his memoirs as an unwilling soldier in Hitler’s army. I’m 54 pages in now and it is fascinating, I highly recommend it. The novel was recently picked up by one of the top publishers in the world Farrar, Strous and Giroux/Macmillan and given a new title: Unlikely Warrior: A Jewish Soldier in Hilter’s Army.
|Panoramic view of Los Dos|
Our conversation ended and I was moving on. For me, my brief overnight experience at Los Dos was one I won’t quickly forget, it was exactly the type of introduction and experience I had hoped for into
this region. I highly recommend a stay at Los Dos Bed & Breakfast and a conversation with Phyllis Rauch.
On to Ajijic...........Stay tuned!
For more information about Jocotepec and Los Dos Bed & Breakfast visit Los Dos B&B. All pricing and information is current at the website. Something to note is that Los Dos B&B is a member of Haciendas y Casonas de Jalisco. http://www.haciendasycasonas.com/en/ Jalisco’s most prestigious hotel association and if you are traveling with your pet you should know Los Dos B&B is extremely pet friendly and welcomes critters.
A quick word for those looking for boutique tourist shops, you won’t find many in Jocotepec but if that is what you are looking for the town of Ajijic is located just a short twenty minute drive from Los Dos. If you are an artist or a writer looking for a peaceful place to exercise your mind and creativity, the environment that Phyllis and Georg have created will work well for you. One of the first comments I made to Phyllis after touring the grounds was “if Hemingway would have found this place first he may have never settled in Key West.”
The studio where Georg Rauch created 30 years of paintings and sketches remains nearly untouched and his brushes and tools are still in the containers where he left them ten years ago. If you are interested in acquiring paintings or drawings created by one of the world’s great impressionist painters, ask to take a tour of the studio.
I absolutely recommend a meal at El Rincon de Frida. Find more info at https://www.facebook.com/rincondefrida?pnref=lhc Talk to German and tell him Lencho sent you!
I will be leading a tour to Lake Chapala that will include a visit to the Rauch Studio at the Los Dos B&B in the fall of this year. If you are interested in more information about this tour please contact
firstname.lastname@example.org This will be a very unique and fun experience for all.
For more information on Mexico, please see http://www.mexonline.com
For more information on Mexico, please see http://www.mexonline.com