It is three days after the September 11 attack on the United States. My
husband, Sam, and I decide to take a break from the television and hike
to the little chapel overlooking the village of Ajijic. The sun is high
in the sky and the air is crisp after last night's welcome rain.
This trek up the mountain is a favorite outing for us, one we often share
Departing from the top of Galeana, the street just east of the Ajijic
Clinic, we tackle the hardest part of the walk. The sharp incline and
loose stones make it tricky to maneuver. Rounding a bend, a couple hundred
feet up the slope, we catch the first view of Lake Chapala. The San Andres
Church steeple stands proudly in the foreground and we can clearly see
the towns and villages on the other side of this huge lake.
What a dramatic change this hike is from the one we took in April when
the weather was hot, arid and dusty. Now, the deep green vegetation is
lush. Vines, bushes and trees narrow the path. Fall wildflowers have just
begun to bloom. A profusion of miniature white daisies contrasts sharply
with the brilliantly purple flowers and the deep gold cosmos blossoms
bobbing in the breeze. Today, the humidity reminds me of being in a rain
forest or in the jungles of Ecuador, until an opening in the undergrowth
allows the cool breeze to reach us.
When we pause to catch our breath, we hear little animals scurrying in
the underbrush. We search the skies hoping today we will see one of the
huge eagles circling in majestic flight.
As we struggle up a particularly tough stretch, Ricardo Gonzales greets
us with a cheerful "Hola!" as he runs downhill. We met Ricardo
and his wife Isabel in their glass shop on Guadalupe Victoria when we
wanted to frame our son's wedding photos. Before he disappears around
the next bend, we breathlessly shout, "How many trips today?" "This is
the third," he yells back.
Because of the beautiful scenery, we have to remind each other to watch
the path. In many places the trail is no wider than my shoe, and some
of that is crumbling away. In the dry season we can walk side by side,
but today there is too much foliage hugging the trail.
About half way up, the sounds of the village reach us. I can't understand
how the loudspeakers from the gas and vegetable trucks could sound so
close. Sam reminds me that the shape of the mountain resembles the bowl
shape of ancient Roman amphitheaters. We hear barking dogs, a duo playing
marimbas, polka music from someone's radio, roosters crowing and children
playing-all the wonderful sounds of life in the village.
As the next switchback comes into view, we see two ladies praying at the
cross. I motion for Sam to slow down, while I rehearse a question in Spanish.
Their prayer finished, I ask about the meaning of the crosses. Maria Luisa
and Estella tell us, in perfect English, that they are The Stations of
the Cross, a practice started in the first centuries after the birth of
Christ. People traveled to the Holy Lands to follow the path of Jesus.
When the crusades began and travel was not safe, the church popularized
representing the major events of Jesus' last week in paintings, sculptures
and monuments. The stations encircle the walls of every local church,
but here on the mountain, the faithful hike to the stations, located at
the trail switchbacks.
After the final station, we climb higher above the hairpin bends. That's
when the chapel first comes into view. What an incredible sight. Beyond
the lake are regal purple mountains on the south shore with villages visible
along the water's edge.
We're a little out of breath and invigorated from our 45-minute walk.
A breeze caresses my face. The serenity we were seeking now surrounds
us and I realize that it doesn't get any better than this. Sam takes my
hand and I feel a bit of peace in this incredibly unsettled time in our