The morning after our spur of the moment decision to book a trip to Guadalajara we loaded a duffle bag and our backpacks and trudged through town to the bus station by the big marlin. By the time we got there we were sweat soaked, so it was a wonderful surprise to discover the luxury of the ETN bus! It was a double decker with very comfortable reclining seats, foot rests and personal video screens in case you wanted to watch movies in Spanish. And it was air conditioned… almost too much. We were dressed for the hot Barra weather in lightweight shorts and short sleeved shirt, ready for 85 plus degrees… not 68. I got my hoody sweatshirt out of my duffel at a stop where I tipped the porter to dig it out for me. Larry didn’t think to prepare for cooler weather, so spent some time actually feeling chilly. The ride was about six hours over mostly toll roads, with stops in Manzanillo, Colima, and the airport before ending at the Guadalajara bus terminal. The roads were initially lined with short banana trees with bunches of bananas waiting to ripen and tall palm trees interspersed. As we continued we had some spectacular views of the 12,000+ foot Colima Volcano and went through an area of deep gorges where the road went across viaducts over the canyons below.
Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico with about 1.5 million people. It’s actually made up of three separate cities – Zapopan, Tlaquepaque and Guadalajara proper. It has recently become a tech hub and also a city for foodies. Lots of Mexico’s history happened here.
After arriving we made our way by taxi to Tlaquepaque, which is an artsy district in the old town area where a century ago very wealthy Guadalajarans had country homes. Kind of like the upper part of Manhattan was in the 1800s. Our bed and breakfast was a charming small old building with rooms off of a small narrow courtyard. The key to our room was the largest brass key I have ever seen – we had to leave it at the front desk as it was too big to carry, and probably irreplaceable!
On our first morning we walked most of the Tlaquepaque neighborhood, scoping out galleries and trying to get into the historical sites. We visited the Centro Cultural El Refugio, a former free public hospital funded by wealthy citizens in the 1800s until the last century – there are still people in the neighborhood who were born there. In recent past it has gone through cycles of disrepair, but now has been partially restored and turned into a cultural center and museum. Most of it was closed for refurbishment and repairs from a hail storm a year ago, but when we stayed to look at the small open area, the museum staff decided to give us a personal tour of some of the closed wings.
Unfortunately, another recommended historical site, the Casa Historia, was closed indefinitely after the collapse of the ceiling. It is clear that money for the arts and restoration can be a challenge in Mexico.
In the afternoon we headed to the new Acuario Michin (Aquarium) in the center of the city. It was very well done. Excellent exhibits with detailed signs in Spanish and English. They also had a small set of animals in the back – some of the happiest and healthiest looking goats and sheep with lots of babies that I have ever seen, along with crocodiles and otters. There were quite a good number of people there for a weekday, and they clearly have taken a lesson from American versions – I saw brochures advertising birthday sleepovers in the Aquarium.
That evening we had the good fortune to meet up with some boating friends from Washington, Jim and Sandy, who happened to be in Guadalajara for a few days as well! They are long time Mexico aficionados, so we met at a fantastic restaurant of their suggestion and had a wonderful meal and catch up.
The following day we took advantage of tour company to get a whirlwind tour and education about the downtown historical sites surrounding the Plaza de la Liberacion and Plaza de Armas and to visit the neighborhood of Tonala, where much of the furniture and crafts sold in local markets is actually made.
Our tour guide Ronny picked us up at our hotel in the morning, and gave us the wonderful news that we were fortunate to be the only people on the group tour for the day! This was fantastic, as he was a font of historical knowledge and we had a terrific time visiting beautiful plazas surrounded by a number of the cathedrals and historical government sites and getting an excellent history lesson on the Mexican war for independence and other skirmishes in Mexican history, many of which played out in Guadalajara. I wish I had taken some notes as I forgot a lot of it soon after.
After lots of touring, we returned to our neighborhood for a late afternoon lunch and mariachi concert at El Patio. Guadalajara is the home of mariachi. An excellent all female mariachi band performs at El Patio most days. This was simply not done in Mexico until the last 10 or 20 years. They were excellent. Ronny said he thinks they are better than any of the male mariachi bands.
We ended the day with visit to several art galleries and to the Museo Regional de la Cerámica, which had some beautiful ceramic displays in a former mansion that has become quite decrepit.
We really just touched the surface of Guadalajara. There is so much art, food, culture and history here. Definitely a city to return to!