Saturday, September 4, 2010

September 4, Traveling to Guadalajara

For many, the act of traveling from one place to another is the boring part of any trip. I have never found that to be true. Stressful, absolutely. Boring, no.

The day started about 4:30. My mother was up banging around in the kitchen so there was no sleeping through that. I couldn't have slept any more anyway. I never set an alarm unless I'm traveling and need to catch a plane. Every time I do I wake up every hour all night thinking I've missed the damn alarm. It's alarming the way that happens!

So, off to a good start, she fed me leftover beans, carne adovada, and a cup of good coffee. A perfect breakfast before a trip to Mexico. I drove directly to Anna's house, through what is usually nightmare quality traffic, but this early on a Saturday morning there were so few cars I passed through every light and made it to her house in record time. She went with me to the airport and came in to chat for a bit before she drove my car back to her house for safe keeping while I'm gone. We had a wonderful though brief talk about how travel may be a drain on one's finances but it is perfect soul investing. That gave me the idea for this blog's title.

On the flight to Houston, I sat next to a young woman and her 16 month old daughter who kept us radically entertained before she settled down for a nap. She adored standing on me to gaze out the window. I couldn't help but wonder if she knew we were way up in the air. If not, the fluffy clouds whipping past and the scenery below facinated her for long periods of time.

A two hour layover in Houston gave me a chance to make some long overdue phone calls to relatives I hadn't talked to in a long time, eat some lunch and read through the Mexican Lonely Planet guide to see if it would be better to stay in Guadalajara or one of the Colonias. Tlaquepaque had been recommended to me and it looked like there might be five or six hotels. Wrong, but that's a later part of the story.

Then I ran into my mother's friend Jim. Well, not the real Jim. A Mexican version of him. He was a big guy like Jim, same height, big bones, bald head, similar face, and the same personality. He visited with everybody, tipped his straw cowboy hat at the ladies, laughed a lot, told jokes and had purchased a 16' flat screen TV which he obviously planned to take home to Mexico. The plane was a small one, with a row of single seats on one side, a row of double seats on the other. I had the single, and some other man had the window seat. "Jim" did his best to fit himself, the TV, an overstuffed bag, his hat and jacket into the space left between us. The stewardess made him check the bag after he's shoved his butt into my face for the third time and then folded himself into a big ball with knees up to his chin, feet on the box holding the TV. After he finally got settled, he looked over at the Guide I had open and asked if I were staying in Guadalajara. We chatted: he spoke to me in rapid, barely-understood Spanish, and I made a valiant attempt to keep up and be coherent. He showed me where the airport is relative to the city, how to find Tlaquepaque, where the regional bus station is and recommended I stay at the hotel near the station. Had I followed his advice, I would have missed out on my subsequent adventure.

The Guide said to take a Taxi to Tlaquepaque because otherwise you would have to go into Guadalajara and then catch another bus, so I did. The driver was absolutely charming and enormously helpful. He didn't know Tlaquepaque any better than I do! We drove around looking for hotels, and he asked several people for help. But the streets are narrow and mostly one way. Businesses have their names printed on the building, so unless you look directly at the sign you don't see it. We drove right past a couple of them. Finally we stopped at one. It was fairly expensive, $100 (US) a night, so the driver suggested we keep looking. We found a second one that the guide said had rare monkeys in cages, a good bar, and decent prices. I opened the door of the taxi as a woman in an SUV slammed on her brakes and cursed me from here to next year. She could easily have taken the door of the cab off.  I should have looked first. I won't ever make that mistake again.

The patio of the rustic hotel....
We rang the bell of the Monkey Hotel but no one ever came. There was a small barred window in the door. I could see into the courtyard. A cat lounged on a chair and the place looked unkempt. Judging from the smell wafting through the window (with an undertone of overflowing cat-box) the monkeys died some time back. A man walked up and informed us that the place was closed. Gee, I wonder why?  He suggested a different hotel so we went there. It was full, but the owner hopped in the cab and directed us personally to another one nearby "cheaper, and mas rustico" he said. I think he owns this one too. It has a 'galleria' in front that sells furniture and light fixtures. In the back of the store there's a wrought iron gate, a little patio and about 5 rooms that constitute the 'hotel'. Rustic is right. Funky is a better description. The room I picked is clean enough but the bathroom is tiny. The shower is a spigot on the wall next to the sink. I think it's a self-cleaning bathroom. After you've had a shower, everything is wet and rinsed off, including the toilet. It's smaller than a bathroom in a motor home. But for $40 (US) it's not bad.  I tipped the sweet driver who had my best interests at heart and settled into my little abode.

It turned out to have some very nice amenities. It's only two blocks from the Centro, a huge plaza with two Catholic Cathedrals, dozens of little shops and restaurants, and a huge stage under a roof. In the couple of hours I spent wandering around in the plaza area, the 'stage' featured a young man belly dancing with black flimsy material he flew around himself like butterfly wings, two full uniformed mariachi bands, and the local 'class' of classical guitarists playing several Rodrigo pieces. All free, all part of the normal Saturday evening entertainment. I had an OK meal at one of the restaurants and then got a small cup of icecream. I tasted several of the selections. One was elote. It was actually delicious and didn't taste all that much like green beans. They also had tequila, mango, mamay, guadana (a fruit I hadn't heard of and may not have spelled correctly), canela (cinnamon), and tres leches (three milks), plus the regulars, chocolate, vanilla, coffee, and carmel.

Night vendors on the plaza in Tlaqupaque.
This has been such a different experience than when I spent February in San Miguel de Allende. For one thing, I haven't seen an Anglo since we left Houston. The only person who's even tried to speak English to me is the young man who's managing the 5-room hotel. And this is the first time I've gone to a foreign country entirely alone. The only person I know is John and he's in Patzcuaro. I've talked to him on the phone, but he wouldn't be much help if I got lost and couldn't find my way back. That's the soul investment of travel. It wakes up the senses. There's not the room for error I've become accustomed to having in life.

Back at El Rustico.....I discovered that I have free wifi, and there's a bar with a live band next door. It might as well be in the same room with me it's so loud. The singer is quite good but I hope he doesn't sing all night. He might though, it is Saturday. Hasta Manana.....

Restaurant Mariachi's

Pan Dulces, the sweet bread of Mexico. Yum!