Many years ago I stumbled upon a hidden pool fed by a cold spring, the source of a bubbling stream of clear, clean water, all shaded by the most beautiful trees imaginable: enormous, stately, ancient Montezuma cypresses (sabinos in Spanish), but still popularly known by their name in Nahuatl, ahuehuetes (old men of the water).
And well do they deserve their title of Mexico’s National Tree.
Where was this halcyon haven found? Not in the middle of the impenetrable Lacondon jungle in southern Mexico, but just outside the pueblito of La Cañada, located only eight kilometers north of Ajijic as the melodic jilguero flies.
In those days, this enchanted pool was reachable from the airport road, but only via bumpy brechas so rough you needed a big truck or a 4x4 to negotiate them. To complicate matters, this magic spot was on private property and getting permission to visit was not easy.
Fast forward nine years. My friend Josh is looking for an interesting place to take his kids – and he has four-wheel drive. “Let’s go to La Cañada,” I suggested.
Upon investigation, I discovered that the entire extent of the Sabinos River, from the enchanted pool to the town of La Cañada, has been incorporated into Campamento Equestre La Cañada, a center dedicated to acquainting both children and adults with the very natural beauty of the area that had captivated me years ago.
“Can we come and see what you are up to?” I asked María Elena García Rulfo, the center’s director and a descendant of famed Mexican writer Juan Rulfo. “Yes, come and see!” she enthused.
Happy surprise number one: The previously bad road from the airport highway is now paved with the smoothest cobblestone I have ever driven on. Surprise number two: A pleasant 800-meter walk along the lovely Sabinos River will take you straight to the Enchanted Pool – no truck needed.
Under a tall shady tree, Maye, as everyone calls García Rulfo, told us all about the Campamento.
“This is a family business, started by my mother and seven sisters,” she said. “At first it was all in fun, and then it developed into something more serious, a true business. So every summer we would bring children here and every year there would be more, to such an extent that now we receive up to 2,000 happy campers every year.”
Maye reminded me that La Cañada is a horseback center. “My family has always loved horses and we have 40 or 50 of them here. We do horseback riding but go way beyond that. Here children can really get to know horses. We do workshops on horses, we hold classes where people can learn to ride. Actually, learning to live with animals, above all with horses, is the main reason for coming to this camp, but we are always evolving and developing and now we have an area for adventurous activities.”
La Cañada offers a zipline, a climbing wall, rappelling and rock climbing on real rocks, as well as water sports. “The most popular of them is our ‘Splash,’” Maye said. “It’s a kind of toboggan activity down a hillside transformed into a sort of giant water slide.”
Maye noted that the camp involves the local people of La Cañada in its activities. “The people you see working here all live in this little town. For example, the entire housekeeping staff, the maintenance people and everyone working in the kitchen are all from La Cañada.”
The center has also developed activities with locals centered on rural life – for example ,how to milk a cow.
“Another thing we love,” Maye said, “are the delicious tortillas of La Cañada, made, of course, from 100-hundred-percent natural corn. A local lady teaches us how to make them. The children go to her house and learn the entire process from start to finish.”
She continued: “We want to see the kids developing in this rural environment, disconnected from their ipods and smartphones. And the same goes for the adults who come here. We pay attention to what they ask of us. Maybe they want to improve their teamwork, or just to rest or maybe learn to cook from the local ladies. Whatever it is, we make a program that fits their needs.”
La Cañada requires a minimum of 25 persons in a group and the price depends on how much time you want to spend there. A typical package might be from Friday night to Sunday morning and would cost 1,620 pesos per person. “That includes accommodations, four meals per day, activities, coordinator, staff, a paramedic, first-aid kit and accident insurance,” Maye said.
The price does not include transportation, but visitors can easily reach the Campamento from Guadalajara or Ajijic in their own vehicles. Check out campamentolacanada.com.mx or their Facebook page Campamento La Cañada.
How to get there
Just look for “campamento la cañada” in Google Maps, which indicates you can get there from Ajijic in 35 minutes and in an hour from downtown Guadalajara. Just in case, the Campamento gate is at N20.37678 W103.26351.