Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Journey To and Throughout Guadalajara

Greetings from Tepoztlan, Mexico! The journey I have taken to reach this magical place and this wonderful day has been full and rich and delightful! I will start to share some of my adventures with you now. I may not get totally caught up, however, before the brilliant sun and the sights and sounds of market day draw me back outside. Pictures of my journies will have to be added after I return to the states. If only words could show you what I have been seeing!!

The journey started in San Antonio around 12:30 in the morning on the 4th of April. The bus ride started out painfully slow, for it took 4-5 hours to get through the border crossing at Laredo, TX into Nuevo Laredo, MX for immigration and customs, and beyond. Literally 4-5 hours of bumper to bumper buses lined up for only a couple of miles. Ug. The bus driver spoke only in a blur of Spanish. I had no idea what he was saying, so observed the other passengers and folowed suit. Lucas and I were the only gringos on the bus, and I one of few women. Easter Sunday, immigrant workers returning home to be with their families. I brought myself to a place of trust that we would arrive to where we had bought our tickets to, as the stops didn´t happen like they were written on our tickets. Sleep didn´t come to me on the long 19 + hour ride. But, I highly recommend taking the bus when travelling in a foreign country. You see the land as it transforms and are immersed in the culture in a way that flying doesn´t bring you.

Northern Mexico: flat desert with low green brush. Out of the fog, mountains suddenly spring up so high, towering, almost defying gravity. Agave fields. Forests of flowering towering cacti. The scatterings of dwellings in the desert and on the outskirts of cities are makeshift ramshackles...crumbling cinderblock homes, patched together with whatever materials are available, mostly reused items. Patchwork homes. Some places I saw I prayed no one was living in, only to pass a little further and see a car parked outside as a sign of inhabitance. Poverty that we don´t see as much in the states is dramatically present as soon as you cross the border into Mexico.

Into Coahuila: amazing colorful graffiti art and murals color the memories of buildings. Bland and crumbling intermingle with brightly painted and new constructions. Everything is either in a state of destruction or construction, deceasing or being created, but nothing is complete. There is a lack of the feeling of permanence. Everything is in flux, everything is in change. Subway, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Sam´s Club, and Coca-Cola murals painted on every other building. Trash and litter everywhere, in stark contrast to the lovely landscape.

The further south we travelled, the more colorful the buildings, the more apparent individual characters were expressed in the colors and the gardens, giving these places a new life and hope despite the lack of money. And here I started to feel like I was stepping back in time and into a different culture, despite the brightly painted satellite dishes dotting every roof top of the rows and rows of houses lined up side by side. Military checkpoints. Adobe villages. Goat herders. A desert that yawns endlessly between distant mountain ranges.

I felt enlivened by the newness, touched by the poverty, in awe of the lazy and quiet desert scape, and inspired by the "rude-boy" lives being lived here, people doing what they can with what they have, and bringing life to an otherwise desolate place.

Further south and inland, the landscape started to became greener with grasses and different trees, fuller forests, lakes. The town of Zacatecas was beautiful! Built on the slopes of the rolling hills, the colorful rows of houses were stacked nearly upon each other. There was a feeling of pride in the appearance of the place, it felt more pristine than other towns we had passed through. We were gifted with an amazing sunset reflecting off the clouds and lake water, a sunset that lit up the entire sky and seemed to last forever.

Arrival in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico: We finally arrived, only an hour later than expected. Kelly, Lucas´ brother, met us at the bus station and took us for a crazy drive back to his neighborhood. We passed through intensely busy intersections with absolutely no traffic signals nor any right of way established, and often with no lanes marked. This is the place to be for aggressive, wild drivers! Kelly lives in the Santa Teresa neighborhood, about 30 blocks northwest of the city center, in a little rooftop apartment on a surprisingly quiet street. Kelly is in medical school here, and plans to practice somewhere in Latin America.

After delicious handmade tamales with mole sauce from a street vendor, we finally made it to what would be our home for the next several days. In a city of 9 million, so close to the city center, it was totally amazing to wake up to the sound of birds...doves, pigeons, and roosters...rather than to the sound of traffic and sirens. Lucas and I had our first solo-adventure in Guad. upon rising. We walked to a little fresh juice stand around the corner for jugo naranja con zanahoria, and had such a difficult time communicating with the people who ran the booth. One girl scoffed at us, but another man eventually let on that he spoke english, and was very helpful. Less than a dollar for a litre of fresh squeezed orange-carrot juice! Delicious! Our next adventure was to the neighborhood mercado...vendor after vendor of fresh veggies, tropical fruit, local cheeses, meat, fish, cooked was amazing, overwhelming, stimulating, and fabulous! And so inexpensive! We stocked up on a few things and had our first fresh tacos, the best tacos either of us have ever had. The tortillas were rolled and cooked on order, and filled with the tastiest beans and cheese, topped with radish, lime juice, and a selection of delicious housemade salsas. So good!

After Kelly got off of his rotation shift, he drove us into the city center, where we spent a few hours walking around, and returned to the next day. Amazingly beautiful plazas, sculptures, flowering trees, beautiful people.

It was around this time that we began to realize that, while Guad. is a somewhat touristy city for Mexicans, the people are not used to seeing gringos. In fact, we saw maybe 5 other gringo tourists during our entire time in Guad. So, being an absolute minority, we stood out in a huge way. Normally when I go to new places, I try to avoid looking like a tourist, but here there was no way around it. I didn´t hesitate to refer to my map or to take countless pictures, or to look around in utter bewilderment. We were going to get lots of curious stares no matter what.

Oh, the beautiful colonial era buildings:

Plaza de Armas (plaza with a gazebo donned with the figures of the 9 muses):

Palacio de Gobierno (c1774, the ex-congress building that houses amazing, imposing murals by Jose Clemente Orozco of Miguel Hidalgo who led the fight in Mexican Independence and revolutionized the government in 1810):

the elaborately tiled twin tower Cathedral (c1558-1618):

Teatro Degollado (c1856-1886, with another 9 muses facade):

Instituto Cultural de Cabanas (c1805-1810, originally an orphanage for about 150 kids, then a nursing home, then a military barracks and jail. It houses 23 gorgeous courtyards, one of which triggered a deja vu from a dream I had had several years ago of the same courtyard!!!, and 58 incredible fresco murals by Orozco in the main chapel. Outside was a cool sculpture plaza.):

And finally, we went to a regional artisan festival with amazing handmade arts and crafts. Lucas and I made a great connection with Tito, a jewelry maker from Cuernavaca, who spoke great english. His jewelry is beautiful, inspired from nature, unique, and complex. One of his rings now has a home on one of my fingers, happily. It all was so charming, ornate...the tilework, the metal gratings, the bright colors. On our walk home, we discovered more and more enticing sights, tiled sidewalks, rooftop gardens, trees lining narrow sidewalks providing much needed shade, character and creativity in the buildings, simplicity of living even in the city. Old buildings still being used and modified.

Oh, and the road where several men were selling pharmacueticals on the street, neo-blackmarket style! Fresh flan made by Kelly´s neighbor! Mangos, mameys, basil cheese, corn icecream, cockroaches, cityscape sunsets from Kelly´s rooftop.

Wednesday was market day in the neighborhood, where at least 5 blocks were filled with produce vendors. Vendors not only lined both sides of the street, but also filled the center of the street. It was so wonderful! The stacks of fresh tropical fruit, veggies, chilies, dried beans, rice. It seemed like everyone in the neighborhood was there to stock up for the week, and that the norm is to buy produce by the kilo. It is wonderful to see so many people buying such a large amount of produce, thus eating fresh whole foods diets! So healthy! We bought kilos and kilos and kilos of food, and had to make 2 trips to carry it all back to the house. Avacados, limes, tomatos, onions, garlic, mangoes, pineapple, guava, bananas, cucumbers, carrots, oaxaca cheese, handmixed strawberry yogurt, cherimoya, sweet potatoes, strawberries, 2 fresh made juices, and some unidentifiable fruit, all for $17 U.S. dollars. In Portland, the cherimoya alone would have cost $17. A treat on the way home: fresh coconut water straight from the coco, and the soft coconut meat mixed with fresh squeezed lime juice, salt, and chili sauce....soooooooooo delicious! Beet pineapple juice. A shop dedicated to various mole sauces, in dry and wet form.

A delicious meal at a very nice Mexican restaurant, El Sacromento. Gorgeous atmosphere and inspired (not traditional) entrees. Lentil soup, cheese quesadillas with a spicy strawberry sauce, crepe stuffed with veggies and cheese and topped with a cilantro pistachio sauce, white fish with mole sauce. I even had a bite of lengua! It helped to not think about what I was eating, and I was thus able to appreciate the taste of tongue! Homemade kiwi, strawberry, and coconut icecream, yum!

A sunset hike 20 minutes to the NW of Guad. in Huaxtla Canyon: dramatic mountains, rocky cliffs, canyons, amazing vistas, mango and agave farms, cool cacti. So beautiful, and so hard to concieve that a huge city lies just over the other side of the mountain. These mountains are a part of the Sierra Madres and run along the San Andreas Fault.

There were challenges too, at first the main one being communication. People in Guad. are super nice and helpful and friendly. They would babble to us in quick Spanish, and we would have no idea what they were saying. We would nod, and smile, and say "Si, Si" or "no hablo mucho espanol," and I felt very challenged in trying to communicate what I needed to in my very limited spanish. As time goes on, I am more and more comfortable. Though my vocabulary isn´t growing fast, I am more comfortable and confident with the few words and phrases I do know. But, people were really into practicing their limited english with us, giggling while listening to us speak english, and running up to introduce themselves to the gringos.

The other challenge in those first few days was money! Finding a bank that would exchange our U.S. dollars became evidently impossible, after so much time searching for one. Eventually, we resorted to using the Casa de Camino, which has a lower exchange rate than the banks, but would at least exchange our money for us.

And, I was ready by day 5 to leave the city and head for the sea! I love Guad. and the sweet neighborhood we spent our time in, but it definitly was time for fresh air, open spaces, and ocean waves! Stay tuned for the next post about the delightful adventures on the Mexican shore!


Roxie said...

Loved reading all about this part of your journey! Looking forward to the next installment! Mom

christine said...

Thank you for sharing! Your words paint a beautiful picture.