Saturday, February 15, 2014

Lo de Marcos to Guadalajara

Leaving a place behind that you really like is never easy. We had been in Lo de Marcos for just over 2 months and really enjoyed it. The people, the town, the food(!), the whole atmosphere. The people staying in the RV park where we were staying are a bunch of lovely people, which made it even harder to move. We have made many new friends, and we hope friends for life. They are for sure welcome wherever we will end up living after this trip. At the same time we wanted to continue our journey. After all, we would have never found Lo de Marcos if we had not been travelling. Riding away from the Cruz Maria RV park wasn't easy, but being on the bike again was! Click on the movie above to see it!

Jeanette in particular shed a few tears. She wanted to stay another week but the park was simply booked out… Everyone came to say goodbye, many photos were taken and then we finally rode away, on a Sunday just as we had been saying for weeks. We knew it would probably be the last time we stayed in Lo de Marcos in the near future, the last time we would enjoy the company of the many friends we had made during our visit, The last time we tasted Gloria's beautiful Chile de Nogada or the many goodies that Yadira had offered us and also the last time we'd got our groceries from the little shop with the parrots that always welcomed us with a big Hola!  It wasn't easy. It was also going to be the last time we'd miss those two bloody topes just outside the RV park… Maybe someone could give them a coat of yellow paint someday… :-)

Still, riding the beautiful winding road towards Guadalajara lifted our spirits. We took the free road and were rewarded with wonderful views, little villages, volcanic landscapes and the many blue agaves. A great ride, the bikes ran faultlessly, the UClear helmet communication works a treat and the new helmet cam worked perfect too, movie inset above. On days like this I can't help but wonder what there isn't to like about Mexico.

Just before we left, Karina who together with Dave owns the Cruz Maria RV Park and with whom we had become good friends, offered us a place to stay in Guadalajara and take us around town. She is such a great person! She loves her country, loves Guadalajara and she does know where to go!

On Sunday evening, just after we arrived, she took us to a very nice Mexican restaurant for a great Mexican dish and a cold drink. The same night she took us to Tlaquepaque with it's amazing buildings and atmosphere. We were the only gringos walking through this beautiful old part of the city and the Mexican culture just seemed to embrace us from everywhere. We were amazed by the craftsmanship in this country,
craftsmanship that can be found in everything and everywhere. There is so much history here and so much pride. The Spanish orientated building style, dating back as far as the 16th century, with huge doors and windows, the beautiful wrought iron gates and the stylish decorations give Tlaquepaque a very special feel. 

The next day we went to the biggest market of Guadalajara, the San Juan de Dios market. The building for this huge indoor market was especially designed for it in 1958 and takes up 4000 m2, has 3 levels and 3000 stall holders.

Impressive figures indeed, yet they didn't prepare us for what we were about to see. Mexicans know how to fill up every square centimetre of space, walkways are narrow and stalls seem to seamlessly flow into each other. The activity is mind boggling. It's a maze where virtually everything you can think of is being sold and at discounted prices. What surprised me even more is the quality of the goods on offer, like the beautifully decorated horse saddles. There are shoemakers making new shoes on the spot. Mike tried Mexican made motorcycle boots. Beautifully made but unfortunately with a steel cap that was just too narrow for his toes.

Jeanette was given a live demonstration of a Vihuela as used by the Mexican Mariachis, click on the video on the left to see and hear it. Even outside the markets there is a lot to see with the continuously coming and going of small trucks, vans and pickups that supply the markets with even more goods. The markets are great to visit and are open every day. Quite a few stallholders speak perfect English too.

Next to the markets, at the Plaza de los Mariachis, is the Hospicio Cabañas; an ex-orphanage that is now a cultural centre with exhibitions of mainly local artists. It's main attraction is the murals in the main entrance hall which are of very high quality and are considered the finest works of José Clemente Orozco. The architecture and murals are beautiful. There is also a display of black and white photographs that shows the Hospicio when it was still used as an orphanage, giving an insight to what life was like then. Outside on the Plaza de los Mariachis, music comes alive at night when the Mariachis play live at the many restaurants facing the plaza. Still, during the day there is also a lot of activity.

The plaza is a car-free centre, which has many decorations, fountains, statues and… shoe-shiners. After an hour I wondered 'How many people can make a living shining shoes?' There were already dozens of them in the small part of the centre we walked in. My shoes must look terrible as almost each and everyone of them asked me if they could clean them :-) One of them offered to do it for 20 pesos, they are so dirty and worn that 100 pesos wouldn't have covered it.

The shops along the Plaza de los Mariachis sell anything from ice-cream to beautifully decorated pottery, clothing, food, washing machines, motorcycles(!), arts, etc. We also found a gigantic jewellery store, which is heavily guarded by fully tooled up guards that look mean and mean business… :-)

Walking through parts of Mexico likes this, which at first seem so familiar, makes you realise that Mexico is still very different. Almost everything is just done differently here. Try to approach it with an Australian or European approach and you are struggling to get things done. Ask a Mexican what you want, and he or she will go out of their way to help you to get it done. What will follow is a way of doing things that seems strange to our eyes and at times goes horribly wrong through translation errors. Translation errors that are the result of our pathetic knowledge of the Spanish language, but somehow always result in comical situations that make the efforts made by the Mexicans even more special.

Another type of 'shop' that caught our eyes was a man with a small desk and an old fashioned typewriter, sitting outside and filling in forms for a client sitting next to it. They looked like civil servants but are private businesses that help people with limited or no writing skills to fill in forms, write letters etc. Particularly farmers and fishermen in smaller towns have traditionally had little need for reading or writing, so it wasn't a priority for them. Of course the current generation is all taught at school but the older generation isn't forgotten and helped this way. The men with their typewriters show that Mexico is a society that works, no matter where you are from.

It seems that even the smallest town in Mexico has a church. Guadalajara is not a small town, it's the second biggest in Mexico and thus has 31 Catholic Churches… Thirty one! All of them beautiful buildings. We visited two, the Catedral Metropolitana, which is one of the most beautiful Roman Catholic Cathedrals I've seen and the Templo Expiatorio, also an architectural masterpiece. The Catedral Metropolitana had a service in progress and we didn't want to disturb with our cameras, so we only made a few photos on the inside. There wasn't a service in the Templo Expiatorio so we could make more interior photos.

Apart from the beautiful interior, the Templo Expiatorio also has a clock and carillon of 25 bells playing 25 different songs (both religious and popular music!). The chime of the clock can even be played via a keyboard in the choir and the campanile on the outside shows the 12 apostles rotating in and out of the tower whenever a musical piece is played. A beautiful church, of which building began in 1897. Like the Puerto Vallarta church, it's building was somewhat 'rocky' and due to the Mexican Revolution took almost 75 years to build.

Another museum we visited is the Museo Regional de Guadalajara, which is opposite the Rotonda de los Jaliscienses illustres, which roughly translates into circle of important people to Jalisco. The circle and the bronze statues around the square symbolise the gratitude Jalisco has for the people that have meant so much for Jalisco.
The museum is absolutely not to be missed! Unfortunately no explanation in English was given but there is still so much to see that it's well worth a visit.
From a Mammoth skeleton to traditional clothes, jewellery, pots etc. It gives a really good insight into Jalisco and Nayarit's history. The displays are beautifully laid out and the amount of artefacts is overwhelming. For just 45 pesos you even get a beautiful entry card :-) I'll let the photos do the talking!

I'm not really a city person… actually I'm really not a city person(!) but I do like Guadalajara. Yes it's madness, just like any other city, and yes the traffic is somewhat mad too. But, considering this is the second biggest city in Mexico with more than 1.5 million inhabitants, it's not that bad.
Again, you have to leave your 'western' ways behind and adapt to the Mexican driving style. Having seen the traffic in Guadalajara now for a couple of days, it actually seems to function quite well. To our eyes, people seem to stop everywhere they want, go everywhere they want, street signs are missing and GPSs are hopeless… but, ask a local and he or she will always help you (we just have to learn a lot more Spanish…). Maybe we should have stayed longer in Lo de Marcos as Dave, the owner, gave free Spanish lessons to residents (which Jeanette picked up really well).

We all like Guadalajara! The people are friendly, it's beautiful and the history all around us was at time just overwhelming. We even found a friendly Yamaha dealer in Guadalajara…! The second one of this whole trip, the other one being in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada. They had all the parts we needed for a service in stock(!) and a new set of gloves too! If there is anything that has become even clearer after our Guadalajara visit then it has to be that Mexicans just find a way to do things, sometimes even the most impossible things. They may seem weird ways to us, but they just work. Sure you can take half your house with you on a little motorcycle, or the whole family, sure you can wash the windscreen of a bus while it's waiting for a traffic light too and you can take all the furniture you just bought with you on a taxi. Mexicans are resourceful people, very resourceful!

In the meantime, Mike has developed an interest in photo-graphing dangerous looking policemen… I thought he was looking for trouble but Karina just asked if they would pose for a photo! Guess what? They switched on the sirens for him!

While writing this piece, a pizza delivery boy knocks on the door… Mike had ordered two pizzas… and he had ordered large ones…! Large in Mexico means the size of a Mexican sombrero! The food in this country is so amazing that I feel another article on food coming too…!