Countless people have been taken in by the widespread claim that National Geographic has rated Chapala as the place with the second best climate in the world.
It’s balderdash according to Tony Burton, a geographer and prolific writer who probably qualifies as today’s top expert on local history.
Burton is a former resident of Jocotepec who now lives in British Columbia where he continues applying an outstanding talent for research to pen books and compile a growing collection of biographical sketches on authors and artists associated with the Lake Chapala region that are posted online at lakechapalaartists.com.
Years ago he delved into the bogus NatGeo claim, going straight to an inside source who scoured into the distinguished society’s records only to find no reference whatsoever to the Chapala climate question.
But that is only one of numerous myths and historical half-truths about the area that Burton has debunked over the years.
One example is the tall tale that famed a Mexican film star once spent her wedding night at Chapala’s Hotel Nido, now headquarters of the local government. A brief note on the fake story is inscribed on a tile plaque embedded at the building’s entrance.
In fact, Burton’s research on the glamour gal revealed that while she lived in Guadalajara at various times and hooked up with a total of five romantic partners throughout her life, she never honeymooned in Chapala.
The myth appears to have been inspired by a photo showing Maria Felix strolling Chapala’s pier in 1938, the year after her divorce from her first husband, cosmetics salesman Enrique Álvarez Alatorre, and long before her 1945 marriage to renowned composer Agustín Lara.
Burton has also tracked down the truth about the ties between Mexican President Porfirio Díaz and Chapala’s evolution as the nation’s first major tourist destination. Multiple accounts assert that Díaz lounged on Chapala’s shores during successive Easter holiday periods during the final years of his long dictatorship,
It turns out that Díaz first visited Chapala in 1896, nearly missed an early demise on the return trip when the boat he was riding to connect with the railway line out of Ocotlán nearly capsized during a severe storm. Burton has also uncovered conclusive evidence that Díaz spent the 1904 Easter holiday in Chapala, but no proof of subsequent yearly visits.
A stickler for facts, Burton acknowledges that he has been obliged to correct some of his own writings that perpetuated misinformation appearing in many supposed reliable sources.
Intrigued by many references to Great Britain’s Ambassador to Mexico Lionel Garden, who bought property in Chapala in the early 1900s, he discovered that the diplomat’s real surname was Carden. The much repeated misspelling is likely attributed to a bad interpretation of antiquated script handwriting of the name.
Burton has also tracked down the true identity of the early Ajijic foreign settler known as La Rusa (the Russian). The retired ballet dancer at times went by the stage name Zara Alexeyewa Khyva St. Albans and the penname Frances de Brundige, but she was actually Eleanor Saenger, born in Brooklyn New York.
And if you’ve heard that British author Somerset Maugham lived in Ajijic once a upon a time, Burton is certain that’s just one more local myth.