Lost Wallet in Chapala, México

Mrs. ItchyFeet and Chapala letters

Guadalajara, México, has been fun, but it’s really just a jumping off point for even better places. Before coming all this way from Seattle, I had heard about a tiny town sitting near the largest lake in all of México. Apparently, Ajijic (A-Hee-Hee-k) is this fun expat community that comes up in a lot of the “Top places to retire” searches. I watched a few vlogs about it and decided it looks like a place that I must explore. Maybe that is where I will head next. Spend some time on the lake!

How to get there?

You can for sure rent a car or hire a taxi, as Lake Chapala is only about an hour and a half away, but it’s kind of expensive. Why do that when there are really nice buses that head down there about every hour? Those suckers only cost about $7 USD round-trip. Sign me up! Now how to get to the bus station? I could walk it but I wanted to get there early, so I hopped on a city bus. I had already picked up one of the Metro cards used around here for my trip to Tlaquepaque, so all I had to do was tap the card when I boarded the bus. No worries.

View from pier over Lake Chapala
This is the view over Lake Chapala from one of Chapala’s piers. I do love me some palm trees!

The city bus dropped me off like ten blocks from the bus station, so I was definitely going to get my steps in today! However, it was fun to see an entirely different part of Guadalajara. Then I found the bus station… and the ticket counter was closed. There are very few adventures that I go on where nothing unexpected happens (it’s an adventure!), so I was slightly concerned. What now? Other people also started arriving and wondering how to buy tickets with no vender. We all just queued up and waited (how very British of us).

Thankfully, after a while, someone returned with their breakfast and opened the window to let us buy some tickets. Crisis averted! Plus, I only had to wait about ten minutes before we all loaded onto the bus and headed out. Some dude was selling candy on the bus, but it was the kind with the glutens, so I had to pass. Stupid auto-immune disease! I brought snacks and water, so I was fine anyway.

Chapala vs Ajijic

There are three principal towns that live on the north side of Lake Chapala, but only two are walkable with big grocery stores. While Ajijic is the one with all the foreign expats and social activities, it’s less expensive to live (and eat) in Chapala. There is a really fast city bus between the two towns, and there are direct busses from Guadalajara to either town. I decided to check out Chapala first because that is where I would most likely stay. In addition, my mum-in-law has a friend from this area and she said Chapala is a must see.

Great egret in front of Chapala lighthouse
Check out this great egret in front of one of Chapala’s lighthouses! If you zoom in, you can see egrets designed into the fencing.

The bus ride to Chapala was lovely. It travels down through Tlaquepaque, past the airport, and out into the countryside. There is supposed to be some vantage point where you travel over some hills and Lake Chapala opens up all pretty like below. But I must have been on the wrong side of the bus (or I forgot to pay attention) because I missed that view. Maybe on the way back?

Chapala is really pretty, with colorful buildings and cobblestone streets. I’m glad I wore my walking shoes and not flip-flops for this adventure! The best area in town is near the Malecón, which is a lovely walkway along the lake with numerous piers. It’s also where the town letters are. For the Insta!

What happened to the lake?

The first thing you notice when you get to Lake Chapala is that the water level is really low. It’s also not of the best quality. I would not swim in that, and not just because it is slightly cold out. We are at a really high elevation after all. So why is the water level so low? It sounds like the lake depth varies greatly depending on the season. This being the dry season with the previous wet season being unusually dry, it’s on the low side. People make bets at the beginning of the wet season as to the top capacity of Lake Chapala. How fun!

Low water level of Lake Chapala
Look how low that water level is. Hopefully, it will go back up over the wet season.

As for the water pollution, they are working on it. They put in some wastewater treatment plants, and are in the process of repairing others, but more needs to be done. It reminds me of the struggles people had cleaning up Lake Superior in the States. It took a lot of effort, but now that lake is a great place to take a shockingly cold dip! I wish them luck cleaning up Lake Chapala because it will be truly beautiful if that happens.

Okay, now it’s time to get to work. What I’m really here for is to contact people to rent an apartment for my time after Guadalajara. I had already found a few places on a rental website, so I went and checked out those neighborhoods. Walking around, I also took pictures of “Se Renta” signs so I could find out prices and make sure the units are fully furnished. I’m not interested in buying couches and beds and tables for my stay.

Where’s my wallet!?!

Now I’m wandering around town, texting people and taking pictures. But I’m getting hungry. I had picked out this lovely restaurant from reviews online. I headed over, but they weren’t open yet. After wandering around a bit more and finding this really lovely place for rent, I headed back to the restaurant. That’s when I realized that the place was a buffet. A buffet with no line. No other customers. At lunch time. The saying goes that even if the food looks sketchy, “If there’s a line, you’re fine.” No line. I’m out.

Pool garden with palms
This is my view during lunch in Chapala. I was panicked by my lack of wallet, but I did enjoy the food!

Time to find some place else. I head back to the Malecón and found the cutest restaurant attached to a lovely hotel. Chilaquiles! Noms! As I sit down, I realize that my bum-bag is wide open… and my wallet is no longer inside. WTF!!! Panic! I quickly log onto Wi-Fi and lock all of my credit and debit cards. At least I still have my passport! Did I leave my wallet at home? I must have. But did I? Replacing those cards while outside the US will be real difficult. Should I just say forget it and head back to Guadalajara? Ugh…

There is just nothing I can do now. I have cash to pay for everything here, so I decide to just enjoy lunch (which I did!) and head to Ajijic to check out that town. Make the best of it. The bus stop to get between Chapala and Ajijic was, thankfully, well marked. Plus, there were other people waiting. They were smart, though, and waited in the shade. Finally, we all spot the bus heading our way… and it speeds right on past. Wait!

Ajijic in all its glory

Well, that bus must have been running late, and likely full, because another one came along shortly thereafter. We all piled on for the journey, each paying the ten pesos fare. There are two types of buses that travel between Chapala and Ajijic. One is direct and one wanders up and down the side streets before making it to central Ajijic. I must have caught the wanderer because we didn’t stay on the highway for long.

Chapala Centro with church
This is Chapala Centro. You can see the gorgeous church of Parroquia de San Francisco in the background.

While it was fun to see lots of different sections of Ajijic, that bus got packed. I kept giving up my seat to older folks and then finding another seat, only to give it up again at the next stop. We kept driving around, up and down the side streets, over plentiful speed-bumps (TOPES!). I was worried I would get motion sickness, so I decided just to jump off as we got close to the lake. I’ll walk from here.

After wandering down to Lake Chapala, and again noting the low water level, I turned toward town and Ajijic’s Malecón. They did a superb job with that walkway along the lakeshore. Lots of art and sculptures. I also found the town letters, which are a great place to snap a selfie! Along the way, I spotted a couple of “For Rent” signs with numbers. I followed up, but they were unsurprisingly a bit out of my price range right there along the water.

¿Habla inglés?

The one thing I really noticed was that there were a lot of English speakers. I’m so used to people saying “hola” or “buen día” that I didn’t know what to say when I heard “hello”. My brain just did some mental sputtering. I spotted a group of folks learning Spanish in the park overlooking the lake. That would be fun. There was also a large social center right in town where older expats enjoyed some art classes and outdoor chats. Later I learned that a lady from my previous job retired and moved here. I wonder if she was in that crowd?

Mrs. ItchyFeet and Ajijic letters
Have to get a shot with the town letters!

It was weird to hear, and read, all the English. The no parking signs were in English and Spanish, and most businesses defaulted to English. It felt a bit odd. Like The Northerns had taken over this small tropical mountain town. Interesting. The weather is amazing here. And the food! Another thing I noticed was that Ajijic is a lot more spread out than Chapala. It’s more of a car town than a walking town. I walked all over that town, getting the lay of the land. It’s very charming, with lots of art and cobblestone streets, but it’s time for me to get home. My feet are tired.

To the bus station I go. Tickets purchased and onto the bus. I got to see a bit more of Ajijic on the way out of town. It is very pretty, but I’m not sure I want to stay in the area. The ocean is calling me. We hit a ton of traffic on the way back, typical of every major city I have ever been in. They actually let us off the bus early just because we were stuck in traffic. That was nice! I walked from there to my city bus stop and immediately spotted the huge lines waiting for a bus. Rush hour indeed.

Home bound

With the huge lines waiting for buses, I couldn’t figure out how to flag down my particular bus. There were so many stopping and picking people up, but many more were just skipping everyone because they were full. After a bit of heated internal debate (my feet are tired), I started walking to try to catch my bus after it turned away from the busy downtown area toward my neighborhood. This worked because all the other buses were turning right while mine came left directly toward me. Time to hop on and let my feet have a much needed break.

Pond turtle on rock
I’m always excited when I get to see turtles. This big fella was in The Lake Chapala Society gardens in Ajijic.

The only problem was that because traffic was so bad, the bus driver turned off the main road and wandered off course. Skip all that traffic. I felt bad for people who were waiting for a bus on his original route. I also had to pay a lot more attention so that I could get off in at least the right neighborhood. Lucky for me, he turned back onto his route once the traffic cleared. I got home in no time. I’m pretty sure I walked 15 kilometers.

So what is the take away from all this? Well, I did a bunch more research and texted all the rental units I found in Chapala and Ajijic. The prices for tiny apartments are kind of high with no incentives, such as an available ocean or even a swimming pool. Both towns are cute and the weather is amazing, but I’m not sure what I would do there for four months. Maybe I should look elsewhere?

To the ocean!

Did you know that there will be a total eclipse of the sun passing through México and into the United States on April 8th, 2024!?! It passes right through Mazatlán on the Pacific Ocean. Where have I heard that name before? Turns out my mom won a trip to Mazatlán for two when I was tiny. She decided to take my pops and leave the kids, which is the smart thing to do. Sounds like they had a good time.

Street art of pineapple
I just love all the street art around town! So much talent.

Plus, my research suggests that Mazatlán will be a great place to see Carnaval and witness all the crazy that is Semana Santa. The ocean there looks lovely and swimmable. The weather sounds perfect. You can walk just about everywhere, which is an absolute must for me. The food looks amazing. Prices for fully furnished apartments close to the beach are very reasonable. Looks like I’m heading back to the ocean!

BTW: I found my wallet safe and sound in a drawer at home. Crisis averted. No need to panic. All is well!

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1 Comment

  1. fun story, please do not leave your pack open on busses you could lose your wallet. Looking forward to Mazatlán stories, Teri has been having great fun.
    Happy Silly season to you two!

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