by Brian kieran
AJIJIC, LAKE CHAPALA – When you migrate from north of 50 to south of 20 nothing fully prepares you for the sweltering heat and humidity of coastal Mexico in the summer.
We arrived in Bucerias in January and revelled under a relatively forgiving sun for the next six months. Water and electrolytes seemed to be the only antidotes needed to combat the heat. It’s not as if we weren’t repeatedly warned to prepare for August and September … with footnotes about July and October. Our expat friends were unanimous: Summers in Bucerias will test your stamina.
Test us it did … and won.
In early July we started experiencing 30+°C by mid-morning on top of 90+ per cent humidity which created “feels like” 40+ heat. Long mid-day, four-kilometre walks into town and back, our daily habit, became impossible. With this heat persisting well into the evening, we turned on our air conditioning for relief about one month much sooner in the season than we had anticipated.
In Mexico, when home energy consumption surpasses a certain level the average monthly cost of power, say 400 pesos, can sky rocket to 6,000 pesos or more. And if this persists, the discounted rate for low consumption is lost and higher rates are applied for several months to come regardless of air conditioner use. The AC goes on as a last refuge.
We love Bucerias, but in mid-July, we packed our bags, locked up our apartment and got our good friend Ignacio to drive us 360 km inland here to Ajijic on the shores of Mexico’s largest body of fresh water, Lake Chapala, 1,500 metres (5,000 feet) above sea level. For the next two months we have traded “feels like” 40 for “feels like” 25, that’s 25°C and 60 per cent humidity.
As an added bonus, we have discovered a truly splendid little city of 15,000 with narrow quaint cobblestone streets, good restaurants and shops, and folks as friendly as they are on the coast and as patient when we limp along in Spanish. Our Airbnb casita has a large deck and is surrounded by lush vegetation including palms, firs and lime trees laden with fruit. Our views extend north to the Sierra Madre mountains rising up just blocks away and south to the lake and the hills beyond.
According to National Geographic, the Chapala Lake plateau has one of the finest climates in the world. The year-round average temperature is about 22°C. We are in the rainy season which started in June and ends in October. Even so, the days are generally sunny with clouds while spectacular thunder and lightening storms conveniently pass through at night.
Ajijic, one of the oldest villages in western Mexico, has deep historical roots dating back before the Spanish conquest in the 1530s. It was first settled by descendants of the ancient Nahuatl tribe.
Sadly, the region’s tourist appeal has been dampened in recent years due to the state of the lake, polluted by municipal, industrial and agricultural waste primarily from Mexico’s 750-km long Lerma River. The pollution has contaminated fish stocks and jeopardized the health and livelihoods of locals who have depended on the fish for food. In 2004, it was declared the Global Nature Fund’s “Threatened Lake of the Year.”
The good news is that in 2016 the government of Jalisco state launched “Chapala Limpio” (Clean Chapala). Besides four million pesos that have been invested to purchase equipment and cover operating costs, the local environment ministry has allocated an additional 800,000 pesos to finance conservation projects in the surrounding municipalities of Chapala, Jocotepec, Tlajomulco and Ixtlahuacán.