Jocotepec on Lake Chapala-Roca Azul - Week One - 1/25-1/30/21
Updated: Mar 19, 2021
I slept in until 9 am with Gypsy! I had wanted to leave by 9 but didn’t sleep well as we were worried about her coming back. So I got my best sleep from 5 am till 9 am. We finally got on the road just after 10 am. The drive was going to be just under 5 hours. Not too bad. We would be taking a few side roads around San Miguel until we would get on the toll roads. We prefer these roads as they are usually better maintained and also feel more secure. We did spend a lot more money on tolls than I expected. We found a few toll booths that would take our credit card so we saved our precious pesos. That was a problem when we were in Palenque last year. We needed to pay our camping fees in pesos but many times the ATM’s were out….for many days!
We were using Larry’s phone for directions as my phone was the one that got us stuck in the middle of San Miguel. It was working fine until we got out of service range...then it stopped. Luckily, I had the directions on my phone too. We were able to use it even though I didn’t have service either. Lucked out! We stopped along the way and had lunch for a 30-minute break. Gypsy was so happy sleeping in the bed as we were driving away from all those big mean nasty dogs. I am thinking she might have thought she made us leave! We left the day she returned. She really is the queen of the Airstream!Lol
We found out about our next camping spot, Roca Azul, from caravan postings on the Mexican Facebook pages. We had also been contacted to lead a caravan that would have stopped at Roca Azul. The caravan never materialized but I had looked at Roca Azul and it looked like a nice place to stay on our way to the west coast. We really have no plan….that seems to work the best for us. We arrived with no problems finding the place! GPS didn’t take us down any narrow one-way streets in the heart of town...this time. We even pulled over 3 KM before the turnoff to make sure we weren’t getting screwed again. We were surprised how big the Roca Azul resort is. We were directed to the available sites and had our choice of 6 or 7 good spots. We picked one on the edge of the huge soccer field. We have a hectare of nicely groomed grass for our front yard. Our backyard faces another camper and then the lake. We celebrated with a few Coronas. Gypsy approved too. They have a leash rule for dogs here. We showed her the sign. I wanted her to feel safe.
We met a neighbor right away. Robin lives in a huge motorhome on our right side. We are the only 2 campers here facing the soccer fields. It’s roomy. We invited him to join us for a beer. Robin came down with a caravan in November 2020 and is planning on staying until the end of March or so. He has his permanent home in Tennessee now but is from Colorado originally. Found out a little about the other campers here from Robin. It seems like a friendly place. We paid for 3 nights. Our next stop will be on the west coast but we haven’t decided where and which direction to head on the coast...north or south?
On our first full day, we just relaxed here at the park. We checked out everything and walked all over this place. It’s huge! They have three pools. One is a thermal pool that’s about 30 celsius. The main pool is massive and also empty. It’s cool and Larry doesn’t like a cold pool. They have a kiddie pool close by but still too cold for my kiddie Larry! We walked to the lighthouse that has a wonderful overlook of Lake Chapala. Besides the pools and the lake, this place has tennis courts, and volleyball courts plus a big soccer field. Plenty of stuff to do right here. We spent the afternoon in the warm sun at the thermal pool our first day.
Thanks to Robin and some good tips, we headed out to see what Jocotepec had to offer. After we found water, we were planning on driving around the lake. Well, we didn’t get very far. We found the sign to the Malecon so we drove down the 2 blocks of cobblestones and parked. They had a security guard checking for masks but they were letting people in to walk around. I didn’t know what to expect and I was thoroughly surprised to see what I would consider the “Disneyland of Mexico”! Granted, nothing was open but they had a Ferris wheel and other carnival rides. Lots of rides for kids and a water park.
We walked down a small peninsula to see lots of birds, like herons, egrets, and pelicans. In the other direction, we saw the carnival rides and many wooden vendor stands. Farther down, we walked across a cemented bridge that would have been condemned in the States….but it’s Mexico and perfectly safe. They had the colorful Jocotepec sign and other displays of art. The Malecon must have been at least 6 KM long with a soccer field and skate park at the end. They had picnic benches under shady trees and we had to imagine how it would look like with hundreds of happy families spending the day. We saw 4 other folks walking around and maybe 3 vendors that were open to selling food and drinks. Perhaps we were too early...it was about 2 pm. Things in Mexico don’t start until later. We only got this far. We saved the other towns around the lake for another day. We picked up a 12 pack of Pacifico for Robin as per his request and headed back to the park. Great first-day outing.
We spent a few fabulous days here just laying by the pool. I really need to work on my tan. Lol. I did some laps swimming as well but the thermal pool is shallow and some days they don’t fill it much. I have been walking every morning for about an hour. I’ve met some friendly folks that have bought houses here and are members of the community, meaning they can use the pools, gym, and other amenities. We also walked down the main Calle into the park and were looking at the house one evening. We noticed a Se Vende sign in front of one. Shortly after we stopped a man stepped out of the house to chat with us. We started speaking our ‘weak’ Spanish and he said he spoke English. We asked him about his house and he gave us a tour. It was bigger than it looked on the outside. He had 4 bedrooms and 3 baths plus a living room, dining room, and a storage room. His home was on 2 lots and he wanted $150,000 US. It was nice but too much house for us...that’s if we were looking to buy something here. He seemed to enjoy chatting with us. His name was Michael and his wife was Dolores. He was from Czech republic and left in 1968. When he was deciding on which country to move to, his choices were the US and he would have had to go into the service and fight in Vietnam or Canada. He chose Canada. Vancouver had the warmest temperatures so he moved there. Not sure how he met his wife but they moved to Mexico to take over her dad’s printing business when he retired. They have lived here ever since and spoke very highly of this area. Very nice couple and we enjoyed meeting them.
We had another outing to the town of Chapala. It was a good drive through a few smaller towns along the way, like Ajijic and San Juan Cosala. In San Juan Cosala they have some fancy hotels with spas. We plan on trying one out before we leave. I think this day is when we decided to stay a bit longer. We paid for the rest of the week. It was only about $90 US for a week. I figured we still had some things to see and do here. Chapala is a great town with much to do. The Malecon was closed in many areas but you could still walk to the restaurants and bars. They had the big colorful Chapala sign roped off as well as the piers.
We did get to go into the beautiful church that was right off the Malecon.
Parroquia de San Francisco We walked around as much as possible until we found a cute restaurant that looked like a treehouse. We knew we had to go in for a beer and a snack. I had a margarita instead which was pretty tasty. I had my first ceviche in Mexico so far. I seem to have a few of my favorite dishes here and ceviche is one of them. They also had a pool in the middle of the restaurant that I thought was a great idea. Lake Chapala is supposedly polluted and swimming is not recommended. We still see the locals in it and people fishing from our beach each day. We will definitely make it back to Chapala again.
What we have really been enjoying is the diversity of birds that are here. We have spent nearly every day walking around the park searching for birds to photograph. Larry has been using my new camera and life is back in my camera. I dropped it in La Tula at the first stop with Berta and Miguel. We are a two-camera family now! Larry has been the winner with his bird shots so far. I did get the best shot of the vermilion flycatcher. We have found the most birds in the early morning and early evening before sundown. Larry is up early so any pics of the sunrise on the lake are from him….I’m still in bed. The sunsets in the mountains around 6:30 pm. We still get pretty colors in the sky from our campground but we would need to be on the other side of the lake to see the sunset on the water. We will get around to that.
I’m really loving it here at Roca Azul with the pools, large green area, and tall trees. We have met many new friends as new folks come in every few days. Many of the people live here full time and are ExPats. We have found that in the towns, many Mexicans speak good English. We have found it very easy to get around here and plenty of things to do. We have mountains on the north, south, and west of our campground. We were introduced to Max, who has recently bought a permanent trailer near the walkway to the Lake and lighthouse. He enjoys hiking and invited us to hike up the mountain to the north. It has a huge cross at the top that looks small from where we are. Robin was going to hike but changed his mind the morning we were going.
Max drove us to the starting point which was on highway 23 right at the Big Jocotepec sign. We parked under the tree as it gets warm in the afternoon. We started hiking around 9:30 am. It’s a very steep trail up with loose gravel. One of the other permanent residents, Jaime, offered one of his bamboo sticks for me to use hiking. I was glad I did too. It gave me some extra leverage. We made a few stops along the way….to catch our breath! We started at 5330 ft elevation and climbed to 6720 ft. My legs and especially my calves were dying when we reached the top! It was all worth it! It was only 1½ hours but brutal. It was the hardest hike we’ve done in a very long time too. The view was great and we all felt accomplished. We rested and had a snack while we discussed which route to take back. If we went down the same way, we all were worried about falling on the loose gravel because it was that steep. Going down the other way, involved a long switchback trail that isn’t maintained and possibly would be overgrown with stickery brush. I had a tank top on but I was willing to brave scratches on my arms versus sliding down the gravelly hill. It was a very good decision as the trail was very good. We did find a few slippery spots and Max fell. It wasn’t bad though. It was a whole lot longer. It took 2 hours.
We celebrated in Jocotepec Centro with some delicious beverages. Max took us to his favorite coffee shop. Larry got a hot coffee and a piece of apple pie. Max got a cold Coke and I had an iced Mocha Frap with whip cream!!! It was a perfect way to end our hiking adventure. Max was born in China and moved to the States as a child. He lived 30 plus years in the Bay Area (northern California) and now has a home in Florence Oregon. They also have an apartment in Puerto Vallarta but has it rented out right now. This place is new to him as well. He’s only been here for a few months. He has one of the best permanent homes at Roca Azul.
So far in a week, we have had amazing bird interactions. Fabulous pools and great grounds to explore. Small towns close by to investigate. Many friendly folks enjoy good conversations.
We even made a trip to the local Walmart 29 KM away. The best part of that trip was there were locals washing cars while you shop. They only wanted 75 Pesos ($3.75 US). We totally took advantage of that. They did a great job and Larry gave them 100 Pesos! All this in a week…... We have decided that we will need to stay a month now. Stay tuned!