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  • Writer's pictureBil

High in the Mexican Mountains

Making new friends on the courts in Chapala

The ball is spinning slowly, coming down towards me in a lazy, high arc, giving me plenty of time to line up a nice slam to my opponents back hand. Wham! A satisfying whack as my paddle drives the ball…. straight into the net! Arg! Not again!

After playing about 3 months, we are getting better, but still not consistent. However, we are really having great fun playing in the last 4 towns we have visited. Played on a court much like tennis but slightly smaller, pickleball uses hard paddles and a holed plastic ball, similar to a whiffle ball. The ball speed is similar to tennis, but the smaller court means less time for it to cross the court and the receiver to react. With doubles at the net it can get intense quickly. It is an easy sport to start, but a difficult one to master!

Most people are very friendly and willing to help newbies, and a great way to meet people in new towns. Plus, the last three towns we have been in have been around a mile high in elevation, so it is giving our lungs a workout! If you have played other racquet sports, you would probably pick it up quickly – and love it!

Viewed from Collette's Patio
Showers Crossing Lake Chapala

Ajijic (pronounced ah-hee heek, I think!) is a sweet little (about 12,000 souls) town built into the hills overlooking Lake Chapala, the largest freshwater lake in Mexico. Ajijic, formerly Axixic means “place of water” in Nahuatl, the language of the nomadic tribes living in this area of Mexico before the Spaniards arrived. The mild climate due to elevation and tropical latitude combined with gorgeous mountain and lake vistas have propelled Ajijic and nearby Chapala into a thriving, artsy community of locals, expats and vacationers from Guadalajara, 30 minutes to the north. The population swells dramatically during the winter months.

Collette and Susie in Ajijic

Collette, our pet-sit hostess, has a beautiful, multi-level modern home on the mountainside above town, with stunning views of the lake and mountains to the south. It reminded me of the mountains in western North Carolina, where you could see several different weather patterns over large areas of land and water and watch squall lines of rain sweep across the lake. She introduced us to the five sweet doggies we would care for in her absence, and even organized a cocktail party to introduce us to some of her friends in the area. In a very short time, we felt part of the community, with recommendations for places to eat & visit.

Walking the Pups Along the Ajijic Malecon

Many days we would rise around sunup, feed the pups and drive to nearby Chapala where there were 6 public pball courts and lots of players to get a game going. Mornings started off cool but could warm up to 80° by noon. After returning home we would load the pooches into Collette’s car and drive down to the Malecon along the lake for a nice scenic walk.

Highway 23 runs right through Ajijic and is usually busy during the day, but most of the side streets are cobblestones, which slows down traffic and supports many pedestrians. There is a wide variety of architecture, from square-angled modern to older pueblo-style, from smaller houses to large compounds. As in many Mexican towns, there are often tall walls and large gates fronting the road, hiding large residences with beautifully landscaped gardens and courtyards. Two- and three-story buildings may be topped with an ornate cupola or lookout, providing expansive views across the surrounding area.

Yes - an Ibanez Iceman the band loaned me!
Jamming at El Patio in Chapala

Georgette, one of Collette’s good friends introduced us to a tasty restaurant and some other people she knew, including Julie & Mike. He and I started talking about music and found out he had a Fender Stratocaster in a closet, which he graciously offered for an open mic at La Bodega the following night. Rolling in there the next night we found a nice band of expats with one young, very talented Mexican guy, backing up a variety of guest singers and players. Got my name on the list and kicked out my version of Kansas City, and then got Susie and Julie on stage to help with backup vocals and dancing for Twist & Shout. A good time was had by all! Thanks again Mike! Several nights later I got in a few more licks with the same band at a different restaurant.

Two couples we befriended at pball were Peter & Elaine, and Richard and Daisy. Peter graciously offered to take us on a tour of the area and drove us through much of Ajijic and Chapala in his beautiful Tesla. He showed us many different neighborhoods and restaurants and described how some of the names were derived. A steep drive up into Chula Vista brough us to Richard & Daisy’s place.

Visiting with Peter, Richard and Daisy

Richard has been traveling extensively, biking across the USA and down to Mexico. He taught ESL in Chiapas, Mexico for years, where he met Daisy, and ended up in Ajijic. They are currently caretakers for a lovely tree-covered estate on the mountain with secluded paths and patios through the bamboo, palms and bougainvillea. Two young spider monkeys that had been rescued from a café cavorted on our shoulders as we had tea overlooking the lake.

Wednesdays in Ajijic meant the popup market was happening on Revolucion Street. Stalls were setup on both sides with folks selling all types of crafts and consumables. Local artisans had displays of hand-made jewelry, hats, clothing, small sculptures, pottery and totems. Several spaces had fresh fruits and vegetables, one had beef and pork cuts and another had fresh seafood on ice. Several vendors had delicious smelling food ready to eat, including tacos, pizza and a very busy ceviche stand that always had the 4 stools occupied. Susie picked up a light sports jacket that has come in handy on cool Mexican mornings.

Wednesday Market in Ajijic

Whilst perusing the map of the area I saw something to the east called Boca Laguna Water Ski. What the heck? Of course I had to investigate, so after pickleball one morning we drove about 15 minutes east of Chapala, out in the country, to find a big wall, gate & guard house with a sign stating “Boca Laguna – Habitat Nautico”. Rousing the gatekeeper from his hot plate lunch, he checked with his boss by phone and opened the gate, pointing to the right. We were looking at a long, narrow waterway, very similar to some man-made waterski lakes in the US.

Patiently Awaiting His Turn on the Wakeboard!

Driving down to the end we saw a slalom course and ski jump and found a 2 story “clubhouse”, small pool, tennis court and docks. They had pro ski boats, and a few young guys hanging around. Alvaro introduced himself and explained how he and his dad built this little lake many years ago where they have waterski tournaments, lessons and camps. He and his father (65), who was going through the course at that moment are both ranked in the upper 100 slalom skiers in the world! I could borrow a ski and get a set (6 passes) through the course for 50 bucks – such a deal!

A few days later we were driving back to the “lagoon” at 8:45 am and I was wondering what I had gotten myself into! Now, I have been skiing since I could walk, and could get through a slalom course all the years we lived in NC and Oviedo, albeit as a “senior amateur”. But it has been 8 years since we sold the ski boat and I have only been up on skis 2 or 3 times since. Hmmm….

And get out the Ibuprofen...
Don't Let Go!

After donning a ski jacket and gloves, I squirted some liquid soap on the front boot of the HO Omni and squeezed my foot in, then eased into the cool water. Alvaro tossed me the handle and took the slack out of the rope, awaiting my signal. I mumbled “hit it” and took a big breath. Suddenly my arms were pulled out of their sockets as 24 liters of water rushed up my nose! The ski swerved to the left and that was it. Sheesh! I knew I was kinda out of shape…but really?!?! Two more attempts with the same results. Arg. Never had this problem keeping the ski straight. But Alvaro had a solution – a handle with a longer harness that would “trap” the nose of the ski and hold it straight until I was planed off. Yay! It worked!

Suffice it to say I did not set any records! I did make it through the course, and possibly got around a couple of buoys! I was taking it slow, on an unfamiliar ski which was kicking up a lot of spray, but still got across the wakes. All told, a rather humbling experience, but hey, I did it! And man! Did I feel it in the arms and shoulders for several days. Hahahaha…..

OK folks, time to move on to our next destination – San Miguel de Allende!

¡Hasta luego!

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