Mar 222014
 

For anyone who lives or travels in western Mexico, Tony Burton’s Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury is a “must have.” I own a well traveled copy of the third edition (2001) but I was delighted to see a fourth edition (2013) recently appear…in part because so many changes have taken place in the decade or so that has followed the third edition. For example, Guachimontones, the round pyramids west of Guadalajara, is described in far more detail than in the third addition.

There are lots of other changes as well. “A federal project to promote cultural tourism, called Pueblos Mágicos (Magic Towns), has brought much more publicity to no fewer than 15 towns featured in previous editions, including Tapalpa, Tequila, Mazamitla, San Sabastián del Oeste, Lagos de Moreno, Comala, Pátzcuaro, Santa Clara del Cobre and Angangueo.” In this past decade, the “quality of hotels has also improved, with the opening of excellent boutique hotels, some of them in quite unexpected places….”

New chapters have been added, new material has been added to existing chapters, maps and directions have been updated, new destinations, like Zacatecas, have been developed in detail.

Reading Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury, I felt that old desire rise up in me to be on the road, if only for a day or two. And so, even before writing this review, I called a young Mexican adventuress in Guadalajara. With the Kindle version of Western Mexico in hand we headed up a now modern highway to the charming old colonial town of Mazamitla, high in the mountains on the south side of Lake Chapala… and far more sophisticated than when I visited it twenty years ago. We even stayed in the inexpensive ($40US) boutique hotel Hostal Ciervo Rojo (a member of the Haciendas and Country Houses of Jalisco) recommended by Tony in his book.

A few days I went with a Chapala buddy on a day trip to Guachimontones, the round pyramids west of Guadalajara, passing trucks loaded with sugar cane, passing stands of a local potent drink called pajarete (a combination of milk, aguardiente, brown sugar, and sometimes chocolate) to arrive at what has become in a few short years, “one of the most astonishing archaeological sites anywhere n Mexico,” although only twenty years ago it was only “mounds of earth”. “The dramatic circular structures at Guachimontones, tiered in concentric terraces, are absolutely stunning….”

As Tony notes in his Introduction, this is “not intended to be a comprehensive guide to all the possible day trips and longer tours in the region…. Rather, it is a personal, idiosyncratic collection of my favorite places in Western Mexico….” The book is filled with whatever Tony finds fascinating… interesting and curious details of history and geography and geology and flora and fauna, and art and architecture and archaeology.

My kind of book!

Parts One and Two cover destinations within three hours of Guadalajara or the north shore of Lake Chapala…day trips. Part One begins with a history of the region from ancient times to the present, and discusses in detail Mezcala Island—“Lake Chapala’s National Monument”—and the “The Riviera communities: Chapala, Ajijic and Jocotepec,” although the spas at San Juan Cosalá, like the luxurious Monte Coxala with its large-scale pre-Hispanic replicas, are also included along with interesting places to stay, like the Los Dos Bed & Breakfast in Jocotepec, which was the home and studio of internationally famous Austrian artist Georg Rauch. Although Rauch passed away a few years ago, his charming wife Phyllis continues to operate their bed and breakfast.

Part One also takes us to the south shore of Lake Chapala, to places like Jiquilpan, a nondescript town that gave birth to two important Mexican presidents—Anastacio Bustamante and Lázaro Cárdenas), and several distinguished artists, like José Clemente Orozco, “one of the famous “Big Three” of Mexican Muralism.” Rafael Méndez (whom I heard when I was a teen, back in Ohio), “arguably the world’s greatest ever trumpet virtuoso,” was also born in Jiquilpan.

In Part Two we go west of Guadalajara to Guachimontones—those round pyramids—and to old haciendas (with concise histories of each), and to Tala, the sugar town, and to the giant stone spheres near Alhualulco. We also learn about mines…silver, opals, obsidian, and of course we visit the ever popular town of Tequila.

Part Three takes us on longer trips, best for overnight stays, to picturesque mountains towns like Tapalpa, and through pine forests to Mazamitla, and to Colima, a provincial state capital with important archaeological sites. Near Colima is Volcá de Fuego, sometimes called Volcán Colima, “the most active volcano in Mexico, and indeed one of the most active in the world, having erupted at least 30 times since 1576.”

Parts Four to Nine cover longer trips, to places like León, the “Leather Capital of Mexico,” and to Aguascalientes, and Zacatecas, and Bolaños, where the “old mining town revives its fortunes.” In Part Six we head west to the coast, to San Blas and Guayabitos (a youthful beach town for “a modestly-priced family holiday”) and even to Puerto Vallarta, “the resort that keeps reinventing itself.” In Part Seven, Barra de Navidad and Melaque—places once popular with pirates like Sir Francis Drake and Thomas Cavendish–are jewels not to be missed, and discovered by tourists only a few decades ago. Part Eight finds us on the road to Tzintzuntzan and to Pátzcuaro, a region where the first Bishop of Michoacán, Don Vasco de Quiroga, “based his approach on the Utopian principles espoused by Thomas More. He established a series of communities in the vicinity of Lake Pátzcuaro, the heart of Tarascan country, where the people would receive training in arts and crafts alongside religious instruction.” He allocated “specific crafts to specific places,” and thus today, Paracho is famous for its guitars, Tzintzuntzan (named after the sound a hummingbird makes with its wings) is famous for its pottery, Santa Clara for copper, and so on.

The final section, Part Nine, is mostly about the beloved monarch butterflies of Michoacán. “Every winter, some one hundred million monarch butterflies fly into Mexico from the U.S. and Canada. On arrival they congregate in a dozen localities high in the temperate pine and fir forests of the state of Michoacán.” Tony discusses the various reserves where visitors can witness the amazing number of monarchs, but Tony also insists that you sample the delicious local blue-corn tortillas. He also takes you farther west to Tuxpan and the country where John Huston shot Treasure of the Sierra Madre, staring Humphrey Bogart. The first bend on the narrow road from Tuxpan to Jungapeo is the bend to have a name on the official topographic survey map: La Curva de la Gringa, a rather dangerous 110-degree bend.

Leaving The Gringa’s Curve behind, you come to the best place to overnight or vacation in this “scenically-stunning part of Mexico,” at the Agua Blanca Canyon Resort, “a charming, small spa-hotel with just 20 rooms, its pools and lawns overlooking the deeply carved valley of the River Tuxpan.”

As in the earlier editions, Tony concludes with a useful appendix that has a “Table of elevations and approximate driving times,” for example from Chapala to Barra de Navidad is four hours and thirty minutes, from Chapala to Mazamitla is one hour and forty-five minutes. He also advises you to take a look at “online forums, such as those on MexConnect.com, to ask for up-to-date information and advice from people who have recently made the same journey or visited the same places.”

If you live in western Mexico or are thinking about living here or visiting here, make this the first book you buy. It has always been a favorite of mine and this latest edition of Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury is the best ever!

This review first appeared on MexConnect.com.

Ready to buy a copy?

The 4th (2013) edition of “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” is now available at select bookstores, and at:

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Dec 042013
 

In the twenty years since its first publication, “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” has become a classic. The latest edition is easily the best ever!

9780973519150-Cover-thumbnailAward-winning travel writer Tony Burton reveals the magic of Western Mexico. Relaxed and intimate, this easy-to-read yet authoritative account features more than 35 original drawings by Canadian artist Mark Eager and 10 maps. Enjoy the author’s unique insights into local history, ecology and traditions. Now in its fourth edition, the book remains a favorite among knowledgeable travelers visiting this region of Mexico. The 4th edition is one-third larger than the previous editions, and includes dozens of new places worth exploring. It incorporates several new chapters, including four devoted to the region around Zacatecas. Every chapter has new material. Maps have been redrawn and travel directions updated. A mixture of interests is represented. Included are historical sights such as Zacatecas, Lagos de Moreno and San Blas; artistic colonies like Ajijic; and lakeside communities, including Chapala and Pátzcuaro. Alongside them are ecological wonders, such as Manantlán and the monarch butterflies; old mining towns like Angangueo and Bolaños; coastal resorts such as Barra de Navidad and Puerto Vallarta; Indian villages like Angahuan, and a host of others.

“Whether you’re an intrepid on-the-road adventurer or a relaxed armchair traveler, Tony Burton’s “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” is an ideal companion… One factor that lends special appeal to this singular travel book is Burton’s departure from the stock formula found in conventional guides. He adheres to a more organic approach, drawing on personal experience and meticulous research to divulge the virtues and peculiarities of every destination.” (Dale Palfrey, 2014)

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Extracts from the book

Where to buy the 4th (2013) edition of “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury“:

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Nov 022013
 

Sombrero Books is delighted to announce that Tony Burton’s Lake Chapala Through The Ages, an anthology of travellers’ tales has been chosen as one of the 15 best books about Mexican history. The list - Recommended Mexico reading: 15 of the best – was compiled by Ellaine Halleck for the Guadalajara Reporter newspaper. The newspaper’s website offers a free 24-hour registration, giving you plenty of time to read the full article.

lake chapala thru the ages-front-cover-376x600Lake Chapala Through The Ages is summarized as covering “the Lake Chapala area from the arrival of conquistadors in the early 1500s to the start of the Mexican Revolution in 1910″, “based on letters and articles from past centuries”. It reveals that “Lake Chapala has not always been the magnet for expatriates that it is today.”

Buy your copy of Lake Chapala Through The Ages today, in plenty of time for the holiday season!

- Link to review by James Tipton (MexConnect)

- Link to review by Thomas Hally (El Ojo del Lago)

Chapter titles of “Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales“:

WMATT-CONTENTS

Apr 192013
 

The much-lauded “Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales” is available as a regular print book, and in Kindle and Kobo editions. The book was chosen by Ellaine Halleck for the Guadalajara Reporter newspaper in 2013 as one of the 15 best books about Mexican history.

Lake Chapala Through the AgesLake Chapala is no longer a paradise without a past

Join award-winning author Tony Burton as he explores the fascinating history of the Lake Chapala region’s formative years from the arrival of conquistadors in the early 1500s to the start of the Mexican Revolution in 1910.

Insightful and entertaining commentary enhances this unique collection of extracts from more than fifty original sources.

Poets, friars, travellers, exiles and scientists overcome bandits and natural disasters to offer captivating tales of courage, greed, delight, unexpected triumphs and much, much more.

xiv+215 pages, with map, more than twenty original illustrations, glossary, bibliographic references and index.

Illustrated by Rosemary Chan. Published by Sombrero Books, 2008.

“Ambitious and encyclopaedic; well organized and engagingly presented” – Richard Perry, Author and Publisher, colonial-mexico

“A must-read, full of little-known facts; a brilliant anthology that reveals Lake Chapala in a whole new light.” – David McLaughlin, Publisher, MexConnect

Extracts:

Reviews

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Where to buy

Dec 182012
 

Sombrero Book is pleased to announce that the 4th (2013) edition of “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury” is now available (Kindle  and Kobo editions).

In “Western Mexico: A Traveler’s Treasury”, author Tony Burton reveals the magic of Western Mexico. Relaxed and intimate, this easy-to-read yet authoritative account features 37 original drawings by Canadian artist Mark Eager and 10 maps. Enjoy the author’s unique insights into local history, ecology and traditions.

Now in its fourth edition, the book remains a favorite among knowledgeable travelers visiting this region of Mexico. This new edition is one-third larger and includes dozens of new places worth exploring. It incorporates several new chapters, including four (in part five) devoted to the region around Zacatecas. Every chapter has new material. Maps have been redrawn and travel directions updated.

A mixture of interests is represented. Included are historical sights such as Zacatecas, Lagos de Moreno and San Blas; artistic colonies like Ajijic; and lakeside communities, including Chapala and Pátzcuaro. Alongside them are ecological wonders, such as Manantlán and the monarch butterflies; old mining towns like Angangueo and Bolaños; coastal resorts such as Barra de Navidad and Puerto Vallarta; Indian villages like Angahuan, and a host of others.

Many of these smaller places in Western Mexico offer a glimpse of the Mexico behind the mask; they are places where Mexico has retained her ancient culture and her ancient traditions.

All the destinations in parts one and two are within day-trip range (maximum three hours driving time) from Guadalajara (Mexico’s second city) or nearby Lake Chapala, a popular retirement center for Americans and Canadians. In part three, all the locations described are worth at least an overnight stay, though Tapalpa, Mazamitla and Tamazula are still within three hours driving time of Guadalajara-Chapala. Parts four to nine describe longer, three or four day trips, which are all well worth the investment of extra time.

No fewer than 17 of the towns featured in the book have received the federal designation of “Pueblo Mágico” (Magic Town), in recognition of their cultural, historical or ecological significance, and facilities for visitors. There are now many excellent boutique hotels, some of them in quite unexpected places, making it far easier to explore the less traveled areas of Western Mexico.

Whether your interests lie in art, architecture and archaeology; fiestas and folklore; unusual sights and natural wonders, or in Indian villages and indigenous handicrafts, this book will help you discover for yourself Western Mexico’s many hidden treasures.

Author: Tony Burton has specialized in exploring and writing about Mexico for more than thirty years. He is the author of “Lake Chapala through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales” (2008) and co-author of “Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico” (2010), and a three-time winner of ARETUR’s annual international travel-writing competition for articles about Mexico.

For other formats besides Kindle and Kobo, please use the “contact us” form and we will do our best to meet your particular needs.

Apr 222012
 

Rose Georgina Kingsley (1845-1925) was the oldest child of the Rev. Charles Kingsley, the celebrated English clergyman and novelist, who contributed the prologue to her book South by west or winter in the Rocky Mountains and spring in Mexico.

Rose Kingsley had crossed the Atlantic to Colorado Springs in November 1871 to join her brother, Maurice, who was assistant treasurer of the company developing Colorado Springs. Even by 1872, there were less than 800 residents, so both Kingsleys were pioneer settlers.

The founder of Colorado Springs, General William Jackson Palmer, a railway entrepreneur, also owned a newspaper Out West which published several columns and sketches by Rose Kingsley. The Denver and Rio Grande train had been operating for only a week when Rose Kingsley boarded it en route to Colorado Springs. She quickly felt at home and rapidly made friends in the ever-changing community that she grew to love. She taught in the local school, begun by Palmer’s wife, Queen, for a short while, but did not enjoy the experience. Little did she realize at that time that she would, in 1884, and with the help of Dr. Joseph Wood, later Headmaster of Harrow, found The Kingsley School, in Leamington Spa, England. Rose

Kingsley went on to write many more books, including A History of French Art, 1100-1899 (1899) and Roses and Rose Growing (1908).

When General Palmer decided in 1872 to examine possible routes for a railway linking Texas to Manzanillo, Rose Kingsley was invited to join his wife Queen and General William Rosencrans on the trip. The group landed in Manzanillo and then headed inland to Colima, Guadalajara, Guanajuato, Querétaro and Mexico City.

In chapter XVII of South by west or winter in the Rocky Mountains and spring in Mexico, Kingsley describes the route from Guadalajara past the northern shore of Lake Chapala on the way to Mexico City. Following a common convention of the time, she uses only initials to identify important people; several of the individuals referred to have been identified by historians. For instance, “Mrs. P.” is Mrs Queen Palmer, and Mr. C. is Mr. Duncan Cameron. Kingsley’s account of this route serves as an introduction to set the scene for so many other travelers, who would follow this exact same route from Guadalajara to Chapala in years to come. It is 1872…

“April 13.— Guadalajara to Ocotlan. At 6.15 A.M. we left hospitable Guadalajara, carrying away none but the pleasantest reminiscences of our stay of six days.

Pablo, a pleasant young fellow, who had been our cochero in Guadalajara, came with us as mozo, and was in a state of supreme delight at being armed with a Henry rifle and revolver. Mr. M. also came with us as far as La Barca.

The usual route from Guadalajara to the capital is by La Venta, Lagos, Leon, and Guanaguato; but for two reasons we chose the more southern route, past Lake Chapala and up the Rio Lerma. First, because the engineer’s party from the north (of whom we had heard nothing as yet, which made us very anxious) must pass along that route, and so be able to give a report on it. Secondly, because we were told the Chapala route was shorter and better, if there can be anything “better” in one Mexican road than another. Certainly, after the first few miles it was bad enough—rough and stony, and in the softer places there were clouds of dust.

At San Pedro [Tlaquepaque] we stopped and got three men as escort, and at 9.30 came to San Antonio, a hacienda where we changed mules, and had breakfast in a hut by the roadside. The women in the hut, which was only made of sticks and thatch, gave us eggs, frijoles, tortillas, and carne seca, in chilli colorado sauce, which for hotness almost beat the mole de guajalote at Atenquique. But besides these native viands we got capital chocolate, made from some cakes we had brought with us. So, on the whole, we fared well.

At 12.15 we came to the summit of a small pass (4850 feet), and there before us lay a splendid valley, rich with golden wheat-fields, with a fine river flowing through it on our left to the north-west; and we knew we had struck the great central valley of Mexico, commonly known as the Valley of the Lerma.

This valley is one of the richest portions of the Republic. Its length, between Guadalajara and Queretaro, is about 230 miles, and its greatest width (between Leon and the mountains of Michoacán), 60 miles. About one-tenth of the available land in it is under cultivation. Wheat, maize, and beans grow freely without irrigation, yielding good crops year after year without the slightest pains being taken to improve the soil. With irrigation and better farming two crops might be obtained; and when a market for the produce, and easy means of transportation are supplied, this tract will become one of the most important wheat-growing districts of the world. The amount of wheat which could be raised in this valley alone has been variously estimated from 500,000 to 1,000,000 tons yearly, equal to or surpassing the whole yearly yield of California.”

This is an extract from chapter 30 of “Lake Chapala Through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales”, available as either as a regular  printed book or a Kindle e-book.

Nov 052011
 

A Review by James Tipton:

Lake Chapala through the Ages: an anthology of travellers’ tales

Edited with Historical Notes by Tony Burton

Sombrero Books, B.C., Canada. 215 pages  $24.95 (Canadian)

Tony Burton’s passion is Mexico, and particularly Western Mexico. Most readers of Mexico Connect find his many articles on Mexico to be both fascinating and useful, articles with titles like “Guayabitos — the Family Vacation Spot,” or the four-part series, “Can Mexico’s Largest Lake Be Saved,” or “Butterflies by the Million: The Monarchs of Michocán.” Burton currently puts together “Did You Know? Facts About Mexico,” a monthly Mexconnect feature, offering answers to such questions as: “Did you know blacks outnumbered Spaniards in Mexico until after 1810?” or “Did you know the oldest winery in the Americas is in Parras de la Fuente” or “Did you know the birth control pill came from Mexican yams?” [Note: all of these articles are accessible in the e-zine archives.]

This man has a knack for searching out and then writing well about interesting places, people and events. Because I like to read what Tony Burton writes, Lake Chapala through the ages is one of those books I would buy sight unseen.

Many readers own his book Western Mexico—A Traveller’s Treasury (now in its third edition in English with a new edition well under way), which has taken us to off-the-beaten-path destinations. A geographer, Burton has also created the definitive street maps of the Lake Chapala area, maps that have been copied by others but which are original with Burton: Lake Chapala Maps — 2008. Obviously Burton is no stranger to our shores here at Lake Chapala.

Lake Chapala through the ages is “a collection of extracts from more than fifty original sources.” In the Introduction, Burton tells us his book “includes extracts from every published book that could be located which makes more than a passing mention of Lake Chapala, and which was written (originally) prior to 1910. Most are first hand accounts.”

Burton selected 1910 as the cut-off because “that marks the end of Chapala’s first tourist boom.” “Later that year the Mexican Revolution erupted. Mexico, including the Lake Chapala region, was thrown into chaos for more than a decade.”

Lake Chapala through the ages presents, then, historical accounts, beginning in 1530 when the first conquistador wrote about seeing the lake — and also the town: ”The scout, going over the mountains found himself in a village called Chapala and in other places whose names were not known at that time….” Lake Chapala through the ages ends with a piece about “Holy week and the elite of Mexican society 1909-1910,” in which we discover:

“Chapala, the most frequented settlement of the lake of the same name, serves as a meeting place during Holy Week for the elite of Mexican society. Elegant villas line the edge of the lake, surrounded by colorful gardens, created at great expense on the rocky soil of the beach. One of the prettiest, “El Manglar”, belongs to Mr. Elizaga, the brother-in-law of ex-President Díaz, who gives, in this enchanting setting, splendid Mexican fiestas, where nothing is lacking: cock fights, balls and joyous dinners.”

In addition to the excerpts, Burton himself provides many historical notes. We learn that Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztec capital in August of 1521, but only two years later, in 1523, two “well-placed brothers, cousins of Hernán Cortés,” were given the encomienda (the right to collect tributes and labor from Indians)” for a vast area that included the shores of Lake Chapala. The Spanish subjugation of the Indians in this area was “a relatively peaceful process, which enabled many indigenous customs to survive largely unchanged into much more recent times.”

Most of the early accounts were written by Franciscan friars. The Franciscans “saw the New World as an opportunity, not only to convert the pagan masses of native Indians to Christianity, but also to put their idealistic ideas of utopia society into practice, and demonstrate that natives and Europeans could live in peaceful and productive co-existence.”

Some of the excerpts are about those early relationships with the Indians: “Converting the barbarians” (mid-16th century),” but others are about geographical details — “Gathering geographic knowledge” (1579-1585) or “Lake Chapala… as large as an ocean?” (1600c). Still others are about a new paradise, filled with abundance, and with fascinating new fruits and vegetables: “Some roots that are called xicamas grow there, shaped like, and almost the same color as, round turnips, without any roots hairs, so thick that each one weighs at least thee pounds…. It is a very delicious fresh fruit, marvelous medicine for thirst, especially in hot weather and in hot lands.” (from “Visits to the Lake Chapala friaries” 1585-1586).

We discover, through Burton’s notes, that Domingo Lázaro de Arregui (Fishing and farming” 1621) made the earliest known historical reference to the making and consumption of tequila: roasting the roots and bases of agave plants then “by pressing these parts, thus roasted, they extract a must from which they distill a wine clearer than water and stronger than rum.”

In earlier censuses taken by the Spaniards (“Early censuses 1768 and 1791-1793”) we discover that Chapala had 123 Spaniards, 451 Indians, 37 mulattos and 671 castes, figures that were particularly interesting to me because the castes (those of more mixed parentage than mestizos or mulattos) now significantly outnumber the Spaniards and Indians combined.

Throughout Lake Chapala through the ages, Burton selects highly varied material that does not bore us with the weight of history and ponderous prose but instead actually delights us and even makes us long for more. Many passages are actually charming, and the historical notes provided by Burton are themselves illuminating and pleasurable.

In his notes to “Mezcala Island — scene of rebellion” (1824), Burton tells us the Italian author, Giacomo Costantino Beltrami, was an “incurable romantic and inveterate roamer,” who among other accomplishments discovered the northern source of the Mississippi River. Beltrami describes his visit to Mezcala Island, which by 1824 was being used as a penitentiary, where the convicts, Beltrami notes, “are less harshly treated than in the penitentiaries of our World [Europe], the dictator of civilization.” Shortly after he visits “Oxotopec, ten milles from Axixis,” Beltrami, with his youthful eye, records that it is “the largest village of all those around the lake,” but that “it has nothing worth noting except for the pretty niece of the curate….”

Even as we move toward more recent times, when there are attempts to accurately determine the dimensions of Lake Chapala, we still high imaginative descriptions of Lake Chapala. Felix Leopold Oswald in “A fanciful sketch of Lake Chapala” (1867-1877) announces Lake Chapala is “ten times as large as all the lakes of Northern Italy taken together, and four times larger than the entire canton of Geneva, — contains different islands whose surface area exceeds that of the Isle of Wight, and one island with two secondary lakes as big as Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine!” [The Isle of Wight, incidentally, is 23 x 13 miles, almost as large as Lake Chapala. Loch Lomond, Scotland’s largest lake, is 24 x 5 miles.]

By the early 1900s, tourism comes into sharper focus. One early and popular traveller’s guide, Lake Chapala, a travellers’ handbook (1909) by Thomas Philip Terry lists rooms available in Chapala, e.g. Hotel Arzopala, “facing the lake,” at $2.50 to $5 American Plan. In his note to this excerpt, Burton tells us that D. H. Lawrence, because of this handbook, was convinced to visit the lake; and of course Lawrence ultimately moved to Chapala in the mid-twenties and this is where he wrote The Plumed Serpent.

Those of us who live here, full time or part time, or who simply visit here have been relieved that the lirio, the noxious water hyacinth, seems at least for the time being to be well under control. I, like others, thought that the lirio problem originated only a few decades ago, but Burton tells us that it was introduced around the turn of the last century, and that by 1907, articles were being published about “the invasion of the terrible aquatic lirio,” which in some places “has completely blocked some docks, and in others it has appeared in such large masses that the Indians have been forced to suppress their trips, damaging trade, scared that they will be caught up in the wave of green.”

And so, there is something for everybody in Tony Burton’s, Lake Chapala through the ages. Whether you are fascinated by the early history of the place where you now live or visit (or would like to visit), or whether you interested in early accounts of the natural history of the region, or of the lake itself, or whether you are fascinated by those votive objects found on the bottom of the lake, or whether you simply want to connect yourself more deeply to the place you now call home (or that is “home” in your imagination), this book is for you.

I think Lake Chapala through the ages is terrific. Buy it!

Nov 012011
 

LAKE CHAPALA THROUGH THE AGES
—An Anthology of Travelers’ Tales

By Tony Burton
200 pages
Reviewed by Thomas Hally

(El Ojo del Lago, April 2009)

      Tony Burton, an award-winning travel writer and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, takes us with him on a spectacular journey on and around Lake Chapala.
      The tales begin immediately after the Spanish Conquistadors had begun to take possession of the land referred to as New Spain, and end at the first ten-year mark of the 20th century, the final phase of the first Lakeside tourist boom and the onset of the Mexican Revolution.
      Burton’s work is divided into five parts, with each part covering significant scenes, events and characters in the history of Lake Chapala during colonial and independent Mexico. The author advises us to remember his character analyses of each of the narrators of the 55 tales while reading through the sketches. The extracts are taken from every known published work that mentions Lake Chapala.
      The narrators provide a vivid description of Lakeside, giving leading roles to the Indians, the Spanish rulers and priests, the scientists, the geographers and the eccentrics, who either came to the region or were born here. Special attention is given to the conditions at Lake Chapala itself: the various hot springs, the size of the lake, the flora and the abundant fish and avian population. Whitefish is frequently recommended as a delectable and healthy food and with corn, chile and frijoles, was a mainstay in the diet of the villagers.
      Hernán Cortés made an appearance at Lake Chapala shortly after the Spanish arrived in the New World and appointed his nephews to oversee the region. The first Franciscan missionaries arrived on the north shore and Ajijic had built its friary by 1531. Jocotepec was the first village to be settled in 1529, and by 1548 Chapala also had a Franciscan mission.
      The Franciscans were genuinely utopian in their outlook, caring not only for the souls of the newly conquered and converted Chapala Indians, but they also attended to their physical needs. They introduced crops and agricultural techniques as well as domestic animals into the region, and strived to put Indian and Spaniard on a relatively equal social status.
      But the Spanish masters were harsh indeed, paying little attention to the friars and, in the first 100 years after the Conquest, the indigenous population was drastically reduced, with the number of Amerindians in New Spain dropping from a reputed 4 million or possibly as high as 30 million souls to a scant 1.6 million survivors. The Spanish rulers were constantly asserting their power, and the natives were the perennial victims of European diseases and brutality.
      Tony Burton devotes several short chapters to the Island of Mezcala in Lake Chapala where a famous insurgency took place between the years 1812 and 1816. The uprising was led by a Creole priest, Marcos Castellanos, a curate from the parish in Ajijic.
      Castellanos led a band of Indians as they fought the Royalists.  He was involved in combat until he was 75. In 1816, an honorable surrender was agreed upon and no reprisals were meted out to the Indians or to Castellanos. This marks one of the few times that the masters of the New World south of the Río Bravo (Rio Grande) actually kept a promise to the indigenous inhabitants.
      Burton emphasizes the importance of Mezcala Island and the insurgents, and states that the historical events surrounding the history of the island should be a focal point of the Mexican Bi-Centennial Independence Celebration in 2010.
      There is a chronicle written by George Francis Lyon, an author and adventurer who accompanied Captain William E. Parry on his quest to find the Northwest Passage. He was the first native English speaker to write about the lake, shortly after Mexican Independence; Joel Poinsett is briefly referred to. How many of us knew that the poinsettia plant popular during the Holiday Season is named after this horticulturalist and first United States Minister to Mexico?  In Spanish, it is called flor de noche buena.
      Mary Blair Rice, who later changed her name to Blair Niles, first visited Mexico with her husband, Charles William Beebe, in the winter of 1903-1904 to take notes on the various species of birds they observed. Blair Niles would later have a distinguished career as a writer and novelist as well as being one of the principle founders of the Society of Women Geographers. The lady novelist/geographer left a legacy of books with variegated and controversial themes such as homosexuality and condemned prisoners. She had a noteworthy impact on 20th century feminism.
      The narrators relate tales of nature, geography, lake and irrigation projects, rulers, visitors, villagers and even a brief mention of love forlorn. The intelligence and industriousness and, in some cases, the laziness and slowness of the Chapalan Indians is on the book’s agenda as well. Told is the short biography of the man who originally proposed draining a sizeable portion of the east end of Lake Chapala to help with the year-round agriculture: Ignacio Castellanos.
      The local villagers saw through Castellanos’ plan and rejected it as self serving and pernicious. Castellanos, one of the wealthiest landowners in Ocotlán, wanted lifetime royalties paid to him if he were to finance the project.
      The first English-language guide book, Appelton’s Guide to Mexico, published in 1886, advised tourists “to carry soap and matches.” Anecdotes throughout the pages of Tony Burton’s anthology tell stories such as those of José Francisco Velarde, El Burro de Oro, or “The Golden Ass,” and oddball Septimus Crowe. Velarde was a fabulously wealthy and equally foolish supporter of the Emperor Maximilian and the French Intervention in Mexico. He supposedly owned territory as large as a small state, a personal army, a harem and curious works of art purchased from around the globe.
      His demise came in 1867, shortly after the execution of Maximilian in Queretaro, when Velarde was captured in Zamora and put to death by a firing squad. The order to eliminate Velarde was carried out, even though he had offered the government soldiers one million dollars if they would miss.
      By 1888 the age of steamboats like Libertad was coming to an end on Lake Chapala and the era of the railways was fast approaching. Abandoned was Filipino-Mexican Longinus Banda’s plan to use steam boats to help train mariners, thus eventually providing Mexico with a national navy. Ernst von Hesse Wartegg, an Austrian-born naturalist and geographer, gave 100% of the credit to “Americanization” and the railroads for opening Mexico to tourism. Interestingly, in his narration, he also claimed to have sighted small alligators in Lake Chapala.
      Mexico? Si señor! is a book written by Thomas L. Rogers for the ultimate benefit of the Central Railway system. Described as “upbeat and positive,” it provides American and European tourists with the reassurance that knowledge of Spanish is not essential but “…a little knowledge of Spanish is a very valuable thing in Mexico…,” and notes that prices are low south of the boarder.
      Dream of a Throne, written by 26-year old Charles Embree, an American, was the first novel written in any language that was set in its entirety at Lakeside. And many of us are familiar with Callejón Mister Crow, a short street in Chapala named after a wealthy eccentric named Septimus Crowe.
      As Chapala’s fame as a resort town grew, so did the power of Mexico’s dictator President, General Porfirio Díaz. President of Mexico from 1876 to 1880 and again from 1884 to 1911, he spent Easter Week 1904 in Chapala with in-laws, and would henceforth return yearly during the end of the Lenten Season to Chapala. El Porfiriato, as his long term in office is called, was ending when the Mexican Revolution started in 1910. He had balanced the national budget, done wonders for Mexico’s agricultural production and respected individual liberties; yet he was, nevertheless, a dictator.  Prone to nepotism, favoritism and the rigging of elections, he had corrupt advisors known as los científicos, but who were, in fact, lawyers and not scientists.  These scoundrels grew more and more powerful and wealthy as El Porfiriato dragged on. Porfirio Díaz and his family abandoned Mexico for Paris in 1911. The end of El Porfiriato coincided with the close of Chapala´s first tourist boom. Tourism was revived after the Revolution.
      Tony Burton’s magnificent anthology gives the reader a brief but thorough look at Lake Chapala between the years 1530 to 1910. Nowhere will the lover of the delightful region we casually call “Lakeside” get such a colorful and detailed account of what the lake, the land and its people were like.

Feb 032010
 

This review, by poet James Tipton, first appeared in MexConnect online mazazine.

Lake Chapala Through the AgesTony Burton’s passion is Mexico, and particularly Western Mexico. Most readers of MexConnect find his many articles on Mexico to be both fascinating and useful, articles with titles like “Guayabitos – the Family Vacation Spot,” or the four-part series, “Can Mexico’s Largest Lake Be Saved,” or “Butterflies by the Million: The Monarchs of Michoacán.” Burton currently puts together “Did You Know? Facts About Mexico,” a monthly MexConnect feature, offering answers to such questions as: “Did you know blacks outnumbered Spaniards in Mexico until after 1810?” or “Did you know the oldest winery in the Americas is in Parras de la Fuente” or “Did you know the birth control pill came from Mexican yams?” [Note: all of these articles are accessible in the Lake Chapala Maps – 2008. Obviously Burton is no stranger to our shores here at Lake Chapala.

Lake Chapala through the Ages is “a collection of extracts from more than fifty original sources.” In the Introduction, Burton tells us his book “includes extracts from every published book that could be located which makes more than a passing mention of Lake Chapala, and which was written (originally) prior to 1910. Most are first hand accounts.”

Burton selected 1910 as the cut-off because “that marks the end of Chapala’s first tourist boom.” “Later that year the Mexican Revolution erupted. Mexico, including the Lake Chapala region, was thrown into chaos for more than a decade.”

Lake Chapala through the Ages presents, then, historical accounts, beginning in 1530 when the first conquistador wrote about seeing the lake – and also the town: “The scout, going over the mountains found himself in a village called Chapala and in other places whose names were not known at that time….” Lake Chapala through the ages ends with a piece about “Holy week and the elite of Mexican society 1909-1910,” in which we discover:

“Chapala, the most frequented settlement of the lake of the same name, serves as a meeting place during Holy Week for the elite of Mexican society. Elegant villas line the edge of the lake, surrounded by colorful gardens, created at great expense on the rocky soil of the beach. One of the prettiest, “El Manglar”, belongs to Mr. Elizaga, the brother-in-law of ex-President Díaz, who gives, in this enchanting setting, splendid Mexican fiestas, where nothing is lacking: cock fights, balls and joyous dinners.”

In addition to the excerpts, Burton himself provides many historical notes. We learn that Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztec capital in August of 1521, but only two years later, in 1523, two “well-placed brothers, cousins of Hernán Cortés,” were given the encomienda (the right to collect tributes and labor from Indians)” for a vast area that included the shores of Lake Chapala. The Spanish subjugation of the Indians in this area was “a relatively peaceful process, which enabled many indigenous customs to survive largely unchanged into much more recent times.”

Most of the early accounts were written by Franciscan friars. The Franciscans “saw the New World as an opportunity, not only to convert the pagan masses of native Indians to Christianity, but also to put their idealistic ideas of utopian society into practice, and demonstrate that natives and Europeans could live in peaceful and productive co-existence.”

Some of the excerpts are about those early relationships with the Indians: “Converting the barbarians” (mid-16th century),” but others are about geographical details – “Gathering geographic knowledge” (1579-1585) or “Lake Chapala… as large as an ocean?” (1600c). Still others are about a new paradise, filled with abundance, and with fascinating new fruits and vegetables: “Some roots that are called xicamas grow there, shaped like, and almost the same color as, round turnips, without any root hairs, so thick that each one weighs at least thee pounds…. It is a very delicious fresh fruit, marvelous medicine for thirst, especially in hot weather and in hot lands.” (from “Visits to the Lake Chapala friaries” 1585-1586).

We discover, through Burton’s notes, that Domingo Lázaro de Arregui (Fishing and farming” 1621) made the earliest known historical reference to the making and consumption of tequila: roasting the roots and bases of agave plants then “by pressing these parts, thus roasted, they extract a must from which they distill a wine clearer than water and stronger than rum.”

In earlier censuses taken by the Spaniards (“Early censuses 1768 and 1791-1793″) we discover that Chapala had 123 Spaniards, 451 Indians, 37 mulattos and 671 castes, figures that were particularly interesting to me because the castes (those of more mixed parentage than mestizos or mulattos) now significantly outnumber the Spaniards and Indians combined.

Throughout Lake Chapala through the Ages, Burton selects highly varied material that does not bore us with the weight of history and ponderous prose but instead actually delights us and even makes us long for more. Many passages are actually charming, and the historical notes provided by Burton are themselves illuminating and pleasurable.

In his notes to “Mezcala Island – scene of rebellion” (1824), Burton tells us the Italian author, Giacomo Costantino Beltrami, was an “incurable romantic and inveterate roamer,” who among other accomplishments discovered the northern source of the Mississippi River. Beltrami describes his visit to Mezcala Island, which by 1824 was being used as a penitentiary, where the convicts, Beltrami notes, “are less harshly treated than in the penitentiaries of our World [Europe], the dictator of civilization.” Shortly after he visits “Oxotopec, ten milles from Axixis,” Beltrami, with his youthful eye, records that it is “the largest village of all those around the lake,” but that “it has nothing worth noting except for the pretty niece of the curate….”

Even as we move toward more recent times, when there are attempts to accurately determine the dimensions of Lake Chapala, we still find high imaginative descriptions of Lake Chapala. Felix Leopold Oswald in “A fanciful sketch of Lake Chapala” (1867-1877) announces Lake Chapala is “ten times as large as all the lakes of Northern Italy taken together, and four times larger than the entire canton of Geneva, – contains different islands whose surface area exceeds that of the Isle of Wight, and one island with two secondary lakes as big as Loch Lomond and Loch Katrine!” [The Isle of Wight, incidentally, is 23 x 13 miles, almost as large as Lake Chapala. Loch Lomond, Scotland's largest lake, is 24 x 5 miles.]

By the early 1900s, tourism comes into sharper focus. One early and popular traveller’s guide, Lake Chapala, a travellers’ handbook (1909) by Thomas Philip Terry lists rooms available in Chapala, e.g. Hotel Arzapalo, “facing the lake,” at $2.50 to $5 American Plan. In his note to this excerpt, Burton tells us that D. H. Lawrence, because of this handbook, was convinced to visit the lake; and of course Lawrence ultimately moved to Chapala in the mid-twenties and this is where he wrote The Plumed Serpent.

Those of us who live here, full time or part time, or who simply visit here have been relieved that the lirio, the noxious water hyacinth, seems at least for the time being to be well under control. I, like others, thought that the lirio problem originated only a few decades ago, but Burton tells us that it was introduced around the turn of the last century, and that by 1907, articles were being published about “the invasion of the terrible aquatic lirio,” which in some places “has completely blocked some docks, and in others it has appeared in such large masses that the Indians have been forced to suppress their trips, damaging trade, scared that they will be caught up in the wave of green.”

And so, there is something for everybody in Tony Burton’s, Lake Chapala through the Ages. Whether you are fascinated by the early history of the place where you now live or visit (or would like to visit), or whether you are interested in early accounts of the natural history of the region, or of the lake itself or whether you are fascinated by those votive objects found on the bottom of the lake, or whether you simply want to connect yourself more deeply to the place you now call home (or that is “home” in your imagination), this book is for you.

I think Lake Chapala through the Ages is terrific. Buy it!