Waking up at 5am was an easier task than expected, though I have to say that it was not due to being overly excited. The journey that lay ahead of me still felt very surreal.
To leave Mexcaltitan I had to go through the same procedure in reverse: collectivo lancha to La Batanga, combi to Santiago Ixcuintla. But kinda an old pro by then and everything went smoothly. The combi dropped me off in front of the bus station in Santiago and I purchased my ticket and jumped right onto a second class bus to Tepic, the state capital. The second class bus was similar to a first class bus, except filthy. The gum thing, that I thought was just for hotels? Busses too. The little plastic cubby in the back of each seat was full of chewed gum. Which makes sense, because people want to sleep on long bus rides.
In Tepic I snagged a ticket to Guadalajara and had just enough time to run across the street to the Pollo Feliz for lunch. This is a fast-food place - they are all over Tijuana - but there is table service, which trips me out. The food is really good though, as good as a regular restaurant.
My bus to Guadalajara was also second-class - settled down for the three hour ride. Was reading Last Exit to Brooklyn which I picked up at that book exchange in Mazatlan - I have read it before but there was nothing else in the shop that interested me. The road was smooth and the scenery pretty. We were heading away from the coast and into the highlands, so there were a lot of craggy hills and winding roads. I drifted off to sleep - which is rare, I always find it hard to sleep on a moving vehicle.
Everything went right as rain - had a window seat and the seat next to me was empty, so Rodrigo and I - Rodrigo being my aisle-mate - were very comfortable. Arriving in Guadalajara proved equally easy. My luggage came within five minutes and when I pressed the button at customs, the green pase light went on and I was allowed through by the cute customs agent to whom I sent a big smile.
I was approached by several taxi drivers all on the hustle who assured me that there were no more buses to centro for over two hours and that I better use their services or god knows what might happen. The time in Mexico I have lived made me a bit less naive than I was at one time and I graciously declined their offers and managed to figure out the bus system. A bit confusing as there are two city centers, central vieja y central nueva, the old and new centers - but it wasn't too hard and two buses and nine pesos later I had reached my destination.
As I mentioned before, for whatever reason I wasn't really all that excited about what lay ahead, but on the first bus from the the Central Bus Station all of that changed. A little boy, around 12 I should imagine, came onto the bus attempting to sell Nikolo chocolate bars - rapidly spouting off about the virtues of these candies and what ingredients they contained. While he never said anything of any real importance, I was totally floored nonetheless. A flood of memories crashed into my brain. I'm not sure where they were before or why this boy triggered them, but for whatever reason I became aware of my situation. And I was ecstatic.
My goal was to meet Carlos, a guy I met on the Internet during my stay in Mazatlan - had a meet with him in a bar next to the main cathedral. I asked a woman on the bus if she would point out where this cathedral was and she assured me she would make sure I got there. She went so far as to get off at my stop, which was not her stop, and lead me the two blocks to where I needed to go, despite the fact that I could see the dark spires from where the bus let us off. Gotta love Latin American hospitality. Online Carlos explained to me that I would see a statue of a guy breaking a chain and that behind this guy there is a bar called El Fuente, our intended rendezvous. Well, his directions were good but La Fuente has no sign, or even a way to tell that it is a bar from the outside - so finding it was difficult - but I managed. I cannot fault the owners though as it is the oldest cantina in Guadalajara and a sign would likely just kill the ambiance.
I arrived early so I had time to drink a few cervezas Negra Modelos and make my first friend of the in this teeming metropolis, Chava, a chef in a local restaurant. He had spent several years in the US and we had a pretty good conversation about our respective countries. About an hour later Carlos showed up and I was very happy to see that he was a cool guy and not a serial killer or some other type of less threatening weirdo - and that he looked just as good in person! I bought some drinks and we were eventually joined by a few of his friends. Alejandro was absolutely gorgeous, but it became quickly apparent that he preferred Frederico, a French guy, to your's truly. Damn French. But both of them were fantastic and provided a lot of good conservation. Alejandro has spent the last year in Valencia Spain so we had a lot to talk about. The final friend was Rocha, who I learned has an awesome taste in music.
On the way back to Carlos' house he was blasting Mexican death metal from his car stereo which may very well be my new favorite genre of rock. The conservation was entirely in Spanish for the whole night, as I was the only native English speaker, and to be honest I am speaking it better than I had expected to. Since one of my goals on this trip is to spend far more time with locals and less with other tourists, having a good base with which to improve my Spanish is really helpful because sitting and trying to converse for hours on end and not really understanding what is going on can be frustrating - the Tourist Curse. So thank you my fellow compas for forcing me to speak Spanish this visit and improving my tongue - despite constantly teaching me phrases which are likely to get my ass kicked, and not telling me the actual meaning, I have still managed to improve and I am grateful for it.
I spent the night at Carlos' place and I intend to spend a few more days here. He lives in a suburb of Guadalajara called Tonala, though it is weird to say it is a suburb since it actually has a bigger population than the city. He lives with his mother, Carmen, and aunt, Josefina, both of whom are hospitable beyond words. They make sure I am well fed and have provided a lot fantastic advice about the city. Josefina and I even had a lengthy discussion about Los Angeles. She worked there for six months back in the 1960's, but unfortunately didn't get the greatest taste of the city since she was living in an industrial area. Hopefully she will return someday and I can show her what the city really has to offer.
So my first day was great and without a doubt the biggest reason for that was Carlos. He has done so much to make me feel comfortable here. I had high hopes in regards to using the Internet and they have most certainly been fulfilled. The wonders of the Internet never cease to amaze me. Fifteen years ago there would have been no way to arrange this kind of thing - but thanks to this wonderful invention I can find people all over the world who actually want to put me up in their homes and show me their cities, with no strings attached. It's just wonderful, there's no other way to describe it.
Today was fairly relaxing. I was on my own as Carlos was working, but that didn't keep me from going out and exploring the city. Grabbed a taxi and went to the Instituto Cultural Cabana, which is an enormous building consisting of literally dozens of rooms, only one of which has anything in it. It is very weird. There is empty room after empty room. Guadalajara is built on a grid system, so it’s pretty easy to find your way around after a day or two. I’ve never visited a place with so many churches. And everywhere you turn, there’s a plaza! It’s truly a really beautiful city. Today, I hopped onto one of those open air tourist buses. It took us out of the old colonial part of the city and right into the suburbs. Some of the highlights for me have been Guadalajara Cathedral. The interior is breathtaking. Then there’s the Museo Regional. Once a barracks and then a boys school, the 18th century colonial mansion has now been turned into a museum, housing an extremely impressive collection of regional archaeology, including a complete mammoth skeleton, a skull of a sabre tooth tiger, and western Mexican metalwork and pottery. The other highlight for me was the Palacio de Gobierno building. What did it was the mural inside by a guy called Jose Clemente Orozco, who was part of the Diego Rivera gang. The mural is spectacular. Beyond that I didn't do a whole lot other than wander around, take pictures, flirt with guys in the plaza and try a tejuino, a local drink made of corn, limes and sugar which is really pretty tasty. I had another look at the Orozco murals in the Governor’s Palace and must say they are in a league of their own … Especially Fiery Hidalgo which portrays the priest (‘Father of Mexican Independence’) encased in flames ; it is painted in a semi dome in a staircase.
Walking aimlessly in centro - with all it's imposing old buildings and open squares full of benches. The city definitely goes on my list of "Places other than NYC that I could see myself living in for a while." It's gritty from age and fumes and such, but there is no trash on the streets, and the buffet concept is very popular. It's as modern as you could want, with lots of public transport and the smell of perfumed air-conditioning drifting from the doors of department stores. Oh, and in the evenings, it's positively chilly! Like, I'm walking around and feel cold. I love it - so tranquil...I really could settle here - really digging this place. But being such a big city, it also has beggars and homeless people. There are quite a few people who sleep along the sidewalk around the corner from the 7-11.
Guadalajara's centro, with all its open squares, is great for peoplewatching. I especially enjoy sitting in the Rotonda de los Jaliscenses Illustres (aka Makeout Park) because it's so green and shady. It's hard to get a seat there because while the benches are long, there is an unspoken "two people per bench" rule. You know - because of all the making out. Anyway, sit there, or anywhere, for an hour and you'll see plenty of manly eye candy.
My first day in Guadalajara was absolutely flawless, and when traveling in Latin America those days are rare, believe you me...