Secret Gardens

2013 April 2013 Nature Suzanne A. Marshall

By Suzanne A. Marshall from the April 2013 Edition

Over the past winters here in Manzanillo and on trips to other interesting destinations in Mexico, I’ve often marveled and wondered at the unique (at least for me) long narrow streets of flat concrete walls, doorways and bricked or cobbled pathways. Sometimes they are broken by small narrow lanes barely wide enough for a small vehicle and some must only be for neighborhood pedestrians. Sometimes a woman may be sitting on a small stool by the doorway or children will be playing games where it is not too busy and ducking in and out of these doorways as we make our way down the street with a particular destination in mind. But I’m always wondering where, and how do these people live? What goes on behind those walls?

A side street in Tonala

This type of street tends to be consistent even in the shopping zones, where once you get off the main avenues and boulevards, the narrow streets are lined with various businesses and shops but you only see the front areas where goods and services are offered. But now I’ve become aware that given the square block sized areas, there must be much more behind these store fronts. I presume there are some storage areas etcetera but possibly living quarters as well.

Last year, we were walking down the road that parallels our beach just behind our condo complex. As usual, with exception to a couple of vacant lots, we pass by closed wooden

Tonala, running shoes donated by anonymous

gates of tenant parking areas and tall concrete walls closed to peering eyes. However on this day, a ‘se vende’ (for sale) sign has been stapled to a wall and the gate has been left wide open. My curiosity could not be contained as I talked my husband into taking a little peek inside. We weren’t ten steps inside and I knew I had been struck by a latent curiosity that would need regular satisfying whenever possible.

For what lay inside these walls was a private paradise! I was absolutely stunned, as we walked into a central courtyard complete with pathways, gardens, palm trees and flowers surrounding a lovely aqua marine blue pool and areas for relaxing amidst the privacy. Around the garden and pool were three levels of condos or apartments with small terraces over-looking the gardens and the pool area. It was a secret secluded and very private place to escape to and enjoy when the working day was over or just to enjoy life. We had no concept from the many times we walked by that all of this was there.

In previous articles, I have written about the incredible sound barrage that hits most of us coming to Mexico from places where concrete neighborhoods are not typical and sound is dulled and absorbed by other building materials and open spaces. So my mind instantly jumps to the thought that this is where people escape to. For this garden was so peaceful and quiet within these walls holding back the noises of daily life.

On a recent trip to Guadalajara, Tonala and Ajijic we experienced the same environment, interesting to say the least. In many streets, especially in areas of commerce and artisan work- shops, these walls and buildings become works of art both inside and outside. These can’t help but captivate the amateur photographers and casual snoops such as myself. It is so much fun to absorb the smells, colors, visual intricacies and feast of ingenuity.

Ajijic, well I guess not everyone appreciates the artwork and murals
Ajijic restaurant garden, with peacocks next page

We were invited to stay a few days of our trip with some friends in Ajijic. It was great fun and because they were familiar with much of the local area, we were treated to a couple of restaurant locations that confirmed my addiction to secret inside gardens behind typical concrete walls off the street. We entered through an ordinary doorway then through a bit of a hallway and suddenly the restaurant turns out to be an indoor garden with tables on patios under palm canopies (palapas) and on green lawns surrounded by

Ajijic restaurant garden, with peacocks next page

flowers and pieces of art sculptures and would you believe free ranging peacocks and roosters with fabulous tails and fluffy feet! And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the food was great too.

And so I have come to understand so much more about the type of living one can enjoy in Mexico and relate to a different perspective on peace and privacy. In Canada and the U.S.A. our privacy is generally contained within the walls of our homes and our yards tend to be open for a display of lawns and shrubs and flower gardens. We live in typically expansive neighborhoods unless of course we are “downtowners” who love the hustle and bustle of the traffic and street sounds of that side of life.

But it really isn’t typical to find quiet small gardens and private spaces that shelter you from the chaos nor is the climate conducive in many locations.

When we were looking for a hotel in Tonala we turned to the internet for information. We read about some nice little places that had possibilities. When we turned to ‘Google maps’ so that we could get a sense of the street location of the hotel and a look at the facade, all we could find were street photos of walls and doorways!! What a chuckle! Now I understand! Even ‘Google’ and their fleet of high-tech photo-trucks and vehicles out there currently mapping the world and making street scapes available, cannot get past the walls of these Mexican streets and as far as I am concerned that is what we can all call PRIVACY!! Cool, they really are secret gardens.

This lovely yard, garden and home complete with ponds and numerous out buildings was donated by the owner to The Lake Chapala Society, once a residence and a prime example of private gardens.

Download the full edition or view it online