Chatting over lunch with several old acquaintances last week, one of the ladies commented, “People who have lived here for a long time talk about how great it used to be.” The very next day we learned that Ajijic didn’t qualify for the Pueblo Mágico program.
What went wrong? After following progress in the process since the idea for a candidacy cropped up a two years ago, I have a fairly good grasp on the factors that put the town in the running and the pitfalls that tripped things up in the long run.
There’s no denying that Ajijic possesses a certain magic that has cast a spell over thousands of outsiders coming from distant parts, myself included. We are captivated by the extraordinary climate, gorgeous scenery, the rustic charm of cobblestone streets, easy pace of life, distinctive folklore and above all, the warm-hearted people who accept our foreign quirks with total aplomb. And there’s an intangible something else that drifts in the air, illuminates the sky and perfumes landscape. It’s a potion that awakens all the senses, explaining why the place is a magnet for artists of all disciplines.
But my table companion was right on in observing that the magic has dissipated over the years. In part that’s because passing government administrations and villagers themselves have made no effort to preserve Ajijic’s architectural identity, something that visitors pick up on when visiting nearby Magic Towns such as Mazamitla, Tapalpa and San Sebastián del Oeste.
It’s not just the mishmash of modern styles brought in by commercial chains like Oxxo and Farmacias Guadalajara. Foreign settlers have contributed by buying up typical village abodes and remodeling them into mock colonial townhouses, often simply to make a buck on resale to other gringos. Take a look at the Real Estate outfits that operate out of slick edifices as they profit on selling life in a quaint Mexican fishing village.
The Pueblo Mágico inspection team that came to town last year surely detected that things were amiss in keeping with the program’s strict standards.
Try as they might, government officials couldn’t hide that the so-called “citizens” committee in charge of handling the postulation was a sham. There were obvious signs of rampant and unregulated street commerce. Despite a last-minute effort to tidy up trash and litter, the village looked unkempt. The town’s cultural mavens put on a colorful representation of a typical Ajijic fiesta, but like everything that is cooked up, it lacked the spirit and authenticity of spontaneous celebration.
The bottom line is that most of the people I’ve talked to are not wringing their hands over the Pueblo Mágico debacle. They don’t think the town needs or can handle drawing a massive influx of tourists. It already thrives on the economic benefits from hosting resident expats and well-heeled tapatio weekenders and struggles with the downside of their influence.
Ajijic can’t step back in time, but it can progress without throwing its surviving magic over the cliff.