Although Lake Chapala is technically the largest natural lake in Mexico, when we moved to Mexico in 2002 It was almost non-existent. The water was about a 1 mile out and all you could see was dirt with a thin mirage of water far out in the center. There were trees and shrubs growing where the water once stood. The lake bottom was littered with haphazard barbed wire fences. Locals had even built a baseball diamond beside the boardwalk. (Which was odd since everyone knows that soccer is the only sport in Mexico) Circuses would set up their tents out on the dry lake bed when they came to town and a few entrepreneurs established a horse riding business down there too. The lake water was dirty and polluted. There were some fisherman who dared to bring home a “fresh” catch, but most people would never consider eating anything that came from it.
We have seen pictures of the lake in the 1950’s. The water was up so high that it covered the main street. On its edges, the water came rolling in waves. It was hard to believe that the lively lake of the 1950’s had nearly disappeared.
Every year during rainy season the runoff water from the mountains fills the basin and every year during dry season the hot sun evaporates noticeable amounts of water. Daily you can see the shoreline move.
Over the 15 years we have been here, we have seen the lake change tremendously. I’m not sure what the real cause of its rejuvenation was, there are lots of superstitions and tall tales circulating, but one year the water began to rise. It came in and covered the trees and bushes. It covered the lonely spillway wall that stood lonesome near the abandoned pier. Then it covered the baseball field and came right up to the edge where the shore should have been. With it, came the waves.
In 2012, just 10 years after moving here, the lake had returned. When it did, the PanAmerican Games, being held in Guadalajara, decided to hold their water events on it. The city brought in truckloads of sand and made a beautiful beach. They even commissioned a larger than life statue of Christ to be placed out near the spillway. Fisherman Jesus is casting his net in search of lost souls. A fascinating sculpture!
Today the lake is not as high as it was in 2012. It has receded just enough that you can walk on foot to see the statue of Jesus and some poor families have built shacks at the waters edge. As the rains continue I’m curious to see how the lake’s water level has changed.
For now the sandy beaches are littered and unkemp, but never the less, each weekend folks come in hoards to escape the hustle and bustle and smog of the city and enjoy strolling the boardwalk with their families. There are vendors selling homemade ice cream, nuts and candies. And there is an open air souvenir market in the park beside the boardwalk. You will find lovers strolling hand in hand, children riding tricycles and grandparents enjoying the afternoon with their children and grandchildren. In Mexico everyone works Monday thru Saturday around 3pm. But Sunday is family day and everyone stops their work to enjoy time together.
Dry or full of murky water through the years the lake provides a great place for families to enjoy time together.