Mexico – Visit To Lake Chapala

HE REMAINED for nearly a month In Guadalajara, and the longer I stayed the easier it became to stay on. It is a city of infinite charm; its life is modern yet leisurely; its people are cultured, vivacious, gay even, as compared with those in some of the more conservative cities, yet preserving always the poise and composure that are national characteristics. My fellow-boarders in Mexico City had given me letters of introduction to relatives and friends in Guadalajara, and these had been a passport to a delightful circle. I was welcomed with frank kindness into the homes of my friends, where in some instances I was addressed by my Christian name, this being the most flattering sign of favor in a Mexican home. I had long adopted the mode of ad-dressing my female friends by their Christian names, it being the social custom for gentlemen to so address the ladies of their acquaintance, whether elderly or young. But it was in Guadalajara this was first reciprocated, and hearing my name thus for the first time in many months I experienced a thrill of pleasure, for I knew it was a tribute to my friendship with a son or a brother.

A delightful feature of social life in Guadalajara were the afternoons at the home and studios of the Mexican painter, Felix Bernardelli, where women and men of artistic, literary and musical pursuits met for music, poetry and gossip. There were many pleasant suppers and musical evenings at the homes of friends, and again I felt the elusive yet dominating thrall that is Mexico’s, and beneath whose sway weeks glide into months and easily into years. The traveler however feels it a duty to travel; yet in leaving Guadalajara, I was disconsolate. Even now, at thought of this lovely city, the desire arises to apostrophize her; yet I can think of nothing that is worthy save that name of praise and endearment,—” Guadalajara, Pearl of the West! ”

My acquaintances had besought me not to leave the State of Jalisco without paying a visit to Lake Chapala, which lies on the boundary adjacent to Michoacan, and is the favorite watering-place of all that region. I accordingly set out for Atequiza, which is the railway station nearest the lake. At Atequiza, which is reached in an hour, you have your choice of a saddle horse or a seat in the stage. The owner of the horses told me he could give me one with a pace like ” the rocking of a canoe on the lake.” I am convinced now that he referred to the lake on a squally day, but in my guilelessness I thought he meant when it was pacific. The stage-driver declared that while he had to wait for the Irapuato train, he could give the saddle horse an hour’s start and then beat it into Chapala. This prospect of a race decided me in favor of the saddle horse. A gaunt looking caballo was led forth, and my luggage was loaded on to a second with little black-eyed Santiago up behind as mozo and guide. Santiago said he was eleven years old, but he afterwards remembered that he was only ” walking toward nine.” He said one forgets now and again, and I admitted this was true especially when one has reached his mature age. I told Santiago that if we beat the stage there was a real in it for him, and he thereupon informed me that there was a fine spur in one of the saddle-bags. There are about a dozen gates to be opened on the road to Chapala, at the rate of a centavo a gate, which is cheap as gates go. They separate the various ranchos. All would have been well, if in crossing one of these ranchos I had not met the head vaquero (herdsman). He was an interesting gentleman in silver-trimmed, black trousers, slit up the side, high russet boots and a magnificent sombrero. He opened conversation by complimenting my horse. I said yes, he was ” good food for buzzards.” I then praised his horse, which was really a fine one. We were jogging along conversing when suddenly I heard yelling in the rear, and there right upon us was the stage. The driver was bawling, ” Andale ! ” and the peon beside him was throwing rocks at the eight little mules, as they tore along. The driver shouted, ” Adios ” and I dug my spurs into that wretched caballo feeling that I was beaten. The caballo saw things in another light. He could loaf so long as no one tried to pass him; but the thought of taking dust from eight plebeian mules was more than his proud Arab spirit could endure. He began to forge ahead with the speed of a locomotive, and the coach was left far in the rear where it belonged. The caballo had decided to let me see what he could do and he kept it up. In a jiffy we reached the top of the hill. Before us lay the lake, with the mountains beyond and the little town of Chapala lying close to the margin. It made me think of Lake Patzcuaro; but you are beside the latter before you know it, traveling by rail, while Chapala you see from afar and have all the delights of anticipation in approaching it. So we galloped down to the lake with the fresh wind in our faces, and I was on my way to dinner when that boastful cochero drew up his eight-mule team before the hotel.

That the manager of the Hotel Arzapalo was a man of taste, I knew when I saw the hotel, with its clambering rose-vines, its well-kept gardens and the little pier running out into the lake, with comfortable benches at either side. When he assigned me to a room, with a view of mountain and lake combined, I was doubly sure. The memories of my ride, together with a bountiful dinner, made me content to loaf the rest of the afternoon; but towards evening I started in search of the warm mineral baths, for which the place is noted. A gentleman who knows Chapala, had said to me, ” Don’t go to the fine-looking bath-house with the ` Bano ‘ sign; follow the same street till you come to some old buildings and then ask for the tanque. ” So I walked by the fine-looking banjos and in an old orange orchard, I found the great swimming tank. It must be sixty feet long by twenty wide, and the bottom slopes so that at one end it is over a man’s head. It is surrounded by a high wall and the palms and orange trees grow close up to it. The water is a trifle more than blood-warm, so that you feel an almost imperceptible ac-cession of warmth in stepping into it. It is the kind – of a bath that you leave reluctantly and then feel tempted to return to. The springs at Cuautla, Morelos, are nearly like these in temperature.

When I came out I asked the duena to sell me some oranges; and she sent a boy to pick them—three big, luscious ones for two cents. An Indian was launching his canoe, and I asked him to take me in; he ran and got a little rush-bottom chair which he put in the stern, and we paddled away. There was the last flush of crimson and purple in the west and a crescent moon overhead; and I could hear the voices of the Indian boatmen, as they rowed out through the dusk to the fishing grounds.

While the lake is often perfectly still during the after-noon, a breeze comes after sunset and soon little waves are running up on the beach. The moon makes a silver track across the water; you hear a soft lapping along the shore, and the scent of flowers pervades the shaded balcony of the hotel. The despondent traveler, who has been seeing the country by day and waging fierce wars by night, in hotels where he pays for a bed and then has to fight to hold it, will hail the Arzapalo as a haven of rest. The beds and bed-linen are spotlessly clean and one lies down with no misgivings as to the manner of his awakening. I could tell gruesome tales of nights spent in Mexican hotels, but I won’t. Perhaps the reader is tender-hearted; and for me, it would only open old wounds anew. The Arzapalo has some fifty rooms, a large sala and dining-room overlooking the lake, and is provided with a bar and billiard table. The cooking is excellent and the bread is all made in the house. The hotel is situated in what is, beyond doubt, one of the loveliest and most healthful spots in all Mexico. Good hotels are a crying want in the republic, and when I en-counter one I sing its praises.

Circumstances over which I had no control forced me to leave Chapala. My trunk ran amuck. I found it at Silao, but I lost — Chapala. I left it when my love was at its height. It was morning on the lake. The mists were hanging on the mountain tops, the breeze was ruffling the surface of the water, and the palms and orange trees shone emerald-green in the sunlight. I rode on top of the coach and as we approached the summit of the divide, we could see a good part of the length of the lake, some thirty leagues in all. There was the little island called ” El Presidio ” where the last of the Chapaltecos, about fifty warriors, made their final stand against two thousand Spanish troops; and were only dislodged by bullets and starvation. There is a plan on foot in Jalisco, to erect a suitable monument on the island in honor of these heroic men, who fought to the end for the freedom of their people. I was not familiar with this tragic episode and the gentleman beside me told it dramatically. I looked again and again at the little island, trying to fancy the scene during the siege. Just then we reached the summit. There was a last glimpse of a great stretch of shining water, and the next minute we had crossed and were bowling down the other side to Atequiza.

If you have never ridden on a Mexican coach, you have still a new sensation in store. The Chapala coach has a cushion on top and if you are fortunate in sharing this seat, you ride muy a gusto, seeing the country and the manner of manipulating an eight-mule-team at the same time. There are two about the size of rabbits on the lead, a string of four in the middle, and two larger ones on the wheel. The driver has a whip, with a lash long enough to reach the leaders. His assistant has another shorter one, but his chief persuaders are rocks. The assistant earns fifty cents a day and free insurance against dyspepsia. He alights at the base of every hill and fills his sombrero full of rocks on the way up. He then shies several boulders big enough to dislocate a hip at the leaders; and when the whole team are in full gallop, he swings himself onto the box in some miraculous way — I think he stands on the hub. He could never do it if he wore shoes. When they change mules, he leads the discarded team up and down to cool them off; while the driver takes the new ones and tangles them up, so you can’t tell where wheelers end and leaders begin. At last they are off again with a whoop and a yell. People talk of Mexico as slow, but the word can never be applied either to stage coaches or street cars, when they once get started.

Some American friends had written me from Guanajuato, advising me to spend a day in Silao. They said I would not regret it, and I decided reluctantly to act on the suggestion. Somehow Silao never sounded interesting and my one impression has always centered around a very good supper that I had with the Howards when we separated there, they going to Guanajuato, which they always declared the most picturesque place in the republic. When we reached Silao, whom should I find on the Guanajuato train but the very people who had advised a day in Silao. ” Hurry up!” they said, ” get your luggage and come right along with us ! ”

” But what about Silao? ”

Oh, never mind, we’ll tell you about Silao!” they answered.

What is sight-seeing compared with good-fellowship? Inside of five minutes, with the assistance of friends and cargadores I was loaded bag and baggage on the train for Guanajuato.

I made the following record in my notebook:—” Silao is where you leave the Mexican Central for Guanajuato and get good things to eat at the station.

” The officials there are obliging and the baggage-master does all in his power to assist tourists who are trying to do impossible things in the way of train-connections.

” Silao is reputed to have the best climate in the republic; and there are hot mineral baths, some ten miles from the station, which are unexcelled for rheumatism.

” Among the industries, is the manufacture of thread for rebozos.

” The elevation is 6,000 feet. Population about 15,000. ”

It takes an hour to reach Guanajuato, first in the little train and then in the street car. When we arrived a band was playing on the plaza and the square looked bright and animated, with the senores promenading in the little park and the peones in the middle of the street. We had supper in a restaurant, where we were served by a waiter who moved faster than any mozo I have ever seen in Mexico. My friend told me he acquired this habit of velocity in the ring at the Sunday gallon (cock-fights). When I went to my room, there was a girl standing in the balcony of the house opposite. She looked very interesting in the moonlight as she talked across the narrow street to some one in the hotel, evidently a suitor.

The following afternoon my friends invited me to ac-company them to their hacienda, which was in the mountains, southeast of the city. The views from the summit were superb, with the city lying at the bottom of the valley, and the haciendas and churches of Valenciana and Los Reyes away off on the mountain side, and just a glimpse of La Luz which lies beyond the summit. The trails are wide enough for two horses to go abreast, and their stone pavements, demolished in places, tell the story of an old and immensely wealthy mining section, where thousands of mules were constantly coming ‘and going, laden with provisions and treasure. Like all mountain trails, these are marked at intervals by crosses. At one point, in a terrible fight between two peones, the head of one was completely severed by a machete, and rolled into the canon below. The cross was erected at the spot where the body was found. Not long ago a burro, laden with water jars, went over a cliff, something like three hundred feet high, and escaped with the loss of two front teeth and his cargo. On the summit are two immense balance-rocks, side by side, known as ” the comadres.” It seems two Indian comadres quarreled there once upon a time, and were turned into stone. They stand to this day, a warning to all passers-by to keep their temper, at least till they get over the ridge. At sunset we met the Indians, men and women, tramping over the mountains to their homes in Guanajuato. They work in the mines and the women earn from four to five reales a day, breaking and sorting the ore.

I have visited many mining haciendas in Mexico. At some there are women-folk and at others not. In the living rooms of the latter you see a pile of boots in one corner, a tangle of coats and overalls in another, and smaller articles of wearing apparel strewn broadcast. Everything is hung up on the floor. Now in the first named, it is quite a different matter. There are rows of nails, with the clothing hung up in order; and there are cabinets, made of empty candle-boxes nailed on the wall, and pictures and photographs. The hacienda I visited was of this kind. I slept in a cozy little room and there were curtains at the windows, a box-washstand with water-bottle and glass, and a fur rug. The moral for mining men is obvious.

When we started for Guanajuato the next morning it was crisp and cool. The men and women were already well up the mountain, on their way to the mines. They must have started before sunrise. Our horses were in high spirits and we had to curb them from racing down the steep trail. On arriving I took leave of my friends, and set out to explore Guanajuato, which I long had wished to know.

Of all the quaint, picturesque old cities I have seen in the republic, Guanajuato is the quaintest and most picturesque. It is built in a winding cañon and it not only occupies the bottom, but climbs up the sides and spreads over the foothills. At the sides the hills rise so abruptly, that the summit, which is higher than the church towers, seems almost within a stone’s throw. When the first charm of the place has worn off, there is a shut-in feeling and one longs for the sight of a distant horizon. To say the streets are narrow doesn’t express it. If you start from your hotel for the post-office, your course is a veritable zigzag: perhaps you find the post or perhaps you bring up again in front of the hotel, in which case you have only to try it over. The third time seldom fails. Wherever you go there is always the feeling that you are in a maze, and the same uncertainty as to where you are coming out. The streets are well-paved but very narrow and some of the sidewalks will not allow two abreast.

There are several trails leading into the mountains, and innumerable footpaths like stairs, cut in the solid rock. I followed a street crossing the city and found myself up against the steep side of the cañon, with nothing to do but climb for it. The stairs terminated in a narrow lane, between adobe walls and cactus hedges, which ended on the ridge. The lane was full of wolfish-looking dogs which darted out at unexpected places with teeth and hair bristling alike; but I have learned a thing or two about Mexican dogs. You have only to stoop as though picking up a rock and the most savage will turn tail or at least keep at a safe distance. A small Indian boy once put me up to this dodge. I was passing a rancho on horseback when a gaunt hound sprang out and attacked me like a fury: I. think she had puppies. I didn’t want to shoot her, for more reasons than one, so I took to flight but the brute kept up with me and I expected every second to feel her fangs in the calf of my leg. I finally left her behind and farther on en-countered a little peon boy jogging along peacefully on his burro, his plump, bare legs offering an apparently tempting morsel. They were quite intact however, and I asked him how he managed it. ” I got down and grabbed a rock,” he replied.

One afternoon about three o’clock, I set out for the white cross which tops the highest peak back of the city. It looked an hour’s climb at most. At sunset I was so far above the town it looked like a toy village lying at the bottom of the canon, but the cross was still a long way off. I did n’t care to make the descent in the dark so I gave it up, consoling myself with that beguiling word ” mañana.” This becomes quite easy after you have lived in the country a while. As I returned, I saw be-low me on the trail what I took for a scarecrow in peones’ clothing with a large white cloth attached and fluttering in the wind. I watched it a long time but it remained motionless; and I was surprised on coming near to find it was a live peon who had washed his handkerchief and was holding it in the wind to dry. How these people can keep so still is a mystery but they seem to find it easy enough. Morning or night is the same to them. How easy it is for a peon to get up in the morning ! He picks up his bed which consists of a red blanket, swings it lightly about him, leans up against a wall, lights a cigarro and gazes complacently at the busy world.

Guanajuato’s population is rated at from forty to fifty thousand. Its elevation is 6,8oo feet. At the upper end of the city there are some beautiful residences and the city park adjoining la Presa is one of the best I have seen. The fine building-stone is quarried just back of the city and is charming in color. Three shades were employed in the facade of the Juarez theater — gray, rose and a delicate green. In combination with the bronze ornament and figures, the effect is very pleasing. I was prepared to be disappointed in the theater but it is a superb edifice and its lines are restful to the eye. I never tire of looking at the exterior. Within all is pro-fusion and lavishness of decoration. Every inch of wall space and ceiling is covered with raised ornament, Oriental in design and gorgeous in color. When the crimson velvet hangings, with their elaborate gold embroideries are in place, the effect is magnificent. The immense stage is provided with complete sets of every sort of scenery: there are winter and summer scenes, groves, lakes and Louis seize drawing-rooms. So well planned is the theater that street cars, laden with the company’s trunks, etc., drive directly beneath the stage before unloading. The large foyer or, better, the drawing-room, is decorated in crimson, with a plain red carpet, red velvet hangings and furniture done in the same material, embroidered in real gold and with a heavy gold-bullion fringe. The appointments of this room alone are said to have cost thirty thousand dollars. The entire cost of the theater is reckoned at between seven and eight hundred thousand dollars. Considering its splendid construction, its wealth of ornament without and within, costly bronzes and marbles and elaborate furnishings, these figures do not seem unreasonable. I doubt if any city in the world can boast a more luxurious art temple than el Teatro Juarez.

An unfortunate contrast to the many attractive features of Guanajuato are the revolting spectacles presented by street beggars, who greet you at every turn. You are conscious, while admiring the theater perhaps, of some crawling object beside you, and there is a loathe-some creature, minus a hand, a leg or a foot, or possibly minus all three. The gulf separating this wretch from the opulence on every hand is appalling; and as I had come directly from Guadalajara, where such sights are not in evidence, I noticed it the more. How the Mexicans, who are naturally a kindly people, and above all lovers of the beautiful, can endure such horrors in their streets is a mystery. The conditions and customs that have led up to their apparent apathy are, perhaps, too numerous for a stranger to understand; but I hope it will not be many year’s before the people themselves will realize what a detraction it is from the beauty of their country, and provide a remedy.

Guanajuato impresses one as a busy place. All day you hear the clattering of the mule pack-trains over the stone pavements and every mule carries two sacks of ore. The sacks are usually of hide and look very durable. The trains are attended by more peones than I ever saw before; in fact there is one to every five mules, with a head man on horseback bringing up the rear.

Another extensive traffic is that of the water-carriers. Nearly all the drinking water is brought from springs in the mountains. At any hour of the day you meet the water men driving their burros loaded with large earthen jars of water. The price is three cents a jar. Peones also peddle drinking water about the city, carrying it in a sort of huge bottle made of clay. This is suspended from the head strap, and to fill a vessel, the vender merely ducks his head, and directs the stream with wonderful precision.

There are plenty of tequila saloons in the town and one that appears to be quite popular is at the corner of the cemetery wall of ” La Compania,” under the very drippings of the sanctuary. The church is a massive old pile, always interesting but especially so at dusk, when the cedar trees loom, black as ink, at either side of the path, and the blackbirds, from all the country round, take up their lodging there for the night. Such a chattering and fluttering about as they settle themselves to their complete satisfaction! I went back again, when the moon was shining, and imagined the cedars looked blacker than ever for their legion of little night visitors. The streets were deserted and all was perfectly still; but suddenly some rude bird jostled his neighbor who told him to keep quiet. He replied that he guessed he had a right to shift from one foot to the other if he wanted to and the result was a squabble. A mischievous young bird in one of the top boughs yelled, ” Come off the roost!” This roused the entire flock and in a minute they were all at it, chattering at the top of their lungs. It was funny to hear the racket gradually die away, as one by one they dropped off to sleep again, till at last all were still, save for two old lady birds who cheeped to each other in subdued tones, that the way some blackbirds carried on was a scandal and nothing less.

La Presa, the great dam of Guanajuato, impressed me as a stupendous achievement in the way of construction, and one that is proof against any and all emergencies. A former one gave way and many persons were drowned in the flood that resulted.

A place that I visited with more interest, was the historic Palacio de las Granaditas, which was once the store-house for all the grains purchased by the crown. When Hidalgo marched from Dolores to Guanajuato, with his band of insurgents, the royalists took refuge with their families in this palace. It was stormed and taken by the revolutionists and history says the place ran rivers of blood. When Hidalgo was finally made a prisoner at Chihuahua, and executed in company with his leaders, Allende and Jimenez, the heads were severed from the bodies and brought to Guanajuato, where they were suspended from the corners of the palace. The nails are still there and beneath them are tablets bearing the names of these heroes of independence. A plate near the entrance records the entrance of the revolutionary army and the capture of the palace on September 28, 1810: and another states that the edifice was begun in 1788 and completed in 1808 at a cost of $207,086.28. This minuteness as to detail indicates a remarkable accuracy on the part of governmental bookkeepers, during the time of construction.

On my last night in Guanajuato there was a special service in the great church of La Parroquia, and the place was ablaze with light and crowded to the doors. There was a fine orchestra and a good tenor voice and I stood outside a long time listening. The night was as bright as day and the people were flocking from all sides, to kneel and cross themselves before the entrance even if they could not find room inside. Among them I noticed an Indian, evidently a peon from the mines, in his scant cotton clothing and a ragged white zarape, which contrasted sharply with his dark and very remarkable face. He had the head of an artist, and his long, coal-black hair, not coarse like the average Indian’s, but fine as . a European’s, heightened the effect. His finely chiseled features were rather Grecian than otherwise, and his face, as he stood gazing into the church, had that singularly unimpassioned look — shall I call it pure? that we see in ascetics and sometimes in men who work hard and live frugally. At last he fell on his knees, crossed himself with lightning rapidity, and then rising and muffling his chin in his zarape went and leaned against the churchyard wall.

I was curious to know what the fiesta was and besides I wanted to talk with him, so I went up and spoke to him. In an instant his hat was in his hand. I said ” Cubrase Ud ! ” (Cover yourself !) and we entered upon the natural relations of a man who wants to ask questions, and another who is able and willing to answer them. He said it was the fiesta 0f Maria Santisima of Guanajuato and that it lasted nine days, during which all the people came to offer thanks for the kindnesses God had seen fit to bestow, and pray for their continuance. (Our Thanksgiving Day precisely, I thought, only it comes earlier and this poor fellow won’t have either turkey or mince pie.) He worked in the mines, he said, and lived with his madre and little sisters, providing the necessities for the family. No, his house was not very far, a little near ! making a comprehensive sweep with his arm, from which I understood, as well as though he had told me, that to reach his house he must cross and go far down the other side of that high mountain, that seemed to touch the sky. I fancied that, according to my standard, it might be a little far, but he appeared as unconcerned as though he had to go a few squares at most.

The speech of this Indian was clear and rapid and showed no mean order of intelligence. He and his people had talked pure Castellano all their lives, he said, but there still remained towns somewhat retired where the people spoke their native dialect. ” When they come here, with their uncouth ways, we stand and look at them and that is all,” he added. I asked him about his work and if there were many accidents. He said men were often hurt but seldom killed. I told him of some of the things that happened in other countries; but while he was interested, he insisted that there could be no caves in his mine; the ground was too hard. Indeed this is true of most Mexican mines. Then he tried to re-member a story his father had told him about a great mine once being suddenly flooded and many, many people drowned, more than a thousand he believed. It was long ago, and nothing of the sort had ever happened since; but mass was still said in his barrio for the repose of their souls. Then saying, ” Sir, I retire!” he lifted his hat, gave me his hand and was gone. An hour after, I fancied him crossing the top of the ridge in the moon-light; but I dare say at that moment he was curled up under the white zarape, in his hut at the foot of the mountain, the hut that sheltered his mother and little sisters. Only a peon! ” But for a’ that,— an’ for a’ that,— a man ‘s a man for a’ that.”