Guadalajara, Mexico is like a big little town. Officially, it’s the second largest metropolitan city in Mexico. I’ve heard anything from 4 - 8 million people, I guess depending on how you define it. The only city in Mexico bigger is Mexico City. That said, it doesn’t feel that big. Instead of feeling too cramped, it kind of just sprawls. In the past, Guadalajara was surrounded by many other small towns. As the city grew it swallowed up those small towns, but they still feel just as small. It’s just that they’re part of a big metropolitan city now.
Admittedly, I don’t even really like big towns that much. At least, I prefer smaller ones. Guadalajara ended up surprising me though. It doesn’t feel big, there’s a ton of stuff to do and a lot of day trips outside of the city. I liked the city so much I ended up staying two weeks. Granted, I was pretty lazy several days, and I had an amazing $6 hostel, so I was in no hurry. I also met a great friend here, Tonio, from France. We ended up traveling three weeks together before parting ways. It was great to have a partner in crime.
I started off just wandering to see what I could by foot. Losing yourself in a city is my go-to first day strategy. Guadalajara is spacious but there’s still a lot in walking distance. Well, I’ll walk just about anywhere (my sister will back me up on that), but seriously. Of course, the obligatory cathedral visit:
The Theater Degollado (which unfortunately I didn’t get to see anything in, but apparently there is a big festival coming up soon):
The Hospicio Cabañas was an absolute treat. It’s a huge building that used to be an orphanage. Now it’s a museum, but the architecture is phenomenal. Many of the walls and ceilings are covered in paintings that are huge. It’s impossible to get decent pictures of the inside, because the murals are hundreds of feet long and go all around you. They’re full of color and very unique.
The nightlife was great. Once I went to an outdoor salsa event with live music. Probably 300 people were dancing salsa. And let me tell you, they were dancing salsa. I like to dance, but this was something different. I think they were all salsa teachers or something. I couldn’t believe how good they were. I’ve never seen someone dance so well in the US, and here were hundreds of random people in the street just lighting it up. Dancing is just much more a part of the culture growing up here than it is in the US.
I ended up eating at this one taquería almost every day. Oh it was so good, and I could eat so much. I repeatedly ate them out of house and cilantro, yet the next day they still had more waiting for me.
Tlaquepaque is one of those old towns that got swallowed up by the fast-growing Guadalajara. Going there now is crazy. It has cute, small pedestrian streets. It’s full of statues (for some reason?). The plazas are full of food, drinks, ice cream, and sheltered by trees. It’s just a really cool place in the middle of a big city.
La Lucha Libre
Remember that shitty Jack Black movie Nacho Libre? Yeah, I don’t really either. But I think it had something to do with Mexican wrestling. Anyway, that’s called La Lucha Libre, and apparently it actually is a real thing. Tonio and I went to see it one night. It cost about $5 to get in, and there were I think 22 wrestlers in all. How much are they paying these guys? There were four matches in total. The first was two on two, and the rest were three on three.
I have to say, it was impressive. You had every kind of fighter you can imagine. From the ultra, ultra fat to the downright sexy 8-pack dudes (the girls in the stadium were going crazy), to a midget (little person? I seriously don’t know). They had it all. And holy shit, were these guys athletes. Even the fat ones. It was amazing the tricks they did. A couple times one of them would stand up on the highest rope, then do a backflip without looking behind him outside of the ring (where it’s significantly lower), land on another guy’s neck with his legs, and in one fluid motion flip the other guy. I kept thinking that someone was gonna die for real (and then I heard that one of the fighters did just die recently in an accident). It was incredible.
Yes, they wore masks and all that weird stuff. Their costumes were hilarious. Sometimes the team had theme costumes. One team were all dressed in black with Cuban flags. They made fun of Mexicans by throwing tortillas at the crowd. Tonio and I couldn’t believe what we were watching. In the first round, when the “Cubans” were winning and submitting the “Mexican” team, they held one of the Mexicans while the other Cubans stuffed his mouth with tortillas. The crowd boo’d furiously. I just couldn’t believe what I was watching.
Perhaps the best part of going to La Lucha Libre was the crowd. The crowd was separated into two sections. Cheap seats and the even cheaper seats. Of course Tonio and I were in the cheapest of seats. But there is some kind of rivalry between the two sections. They spent more time chanting vulgarities at each other than they did at the wrestlers. Most of it I couldn’t really understand, but they repeated “chingas a tu madre!” (fuck your mom) enough that I heard the chant in my sleep. I mean seriously, there was a mom with two little kids sitting in front of me, and she was chanting just as much as anyone else. God I love this country.
I only regret that I showed up to the show sober. That was a grave mistake. If you go, do yourself a favor and pre-drink. You’ll appreciate it more.
La Barranca de Huentitán
On the north side of the town was La Barranca de Hentitán, which is a big ravine with a river. The first time I went with Tonio and another American, Tyler, who was working in the hostel. We wanted to hike down to the river, but we only went to the viewpoint at the top and didn’t find the path down.
By the way, that’s Guadalajara on the left, overlooking La Barranca. Pretty cool, eh? The second time I went with Angeles, a native Guadalajaran. And we found the actual path to go down into the ravine!
And we made it down to the bottom just in time for the peak afternoon temperatures! Dem clouds though:
The hike up was great because I haven’t really hiked in months, and it’s something I really miss about Colorado! There was a guy selling water and Gatorade at the halfway point. I gotta say, that was pretty sweet.
I went to a football game! Guadalajara vs Veracruz. Unfortunately, Guadalajara lost, but it was still a fun experience. We got there about 15 minutes early, which was about 30 minutes too late, because the lines to get into the stadium were crazy. One of the most interesting parts is when the goalie for the away team is kicking the ball off, everyone in the stadium together starts yelling, “héééééééééééééééy” and as soon as he kicks the ball everyone yells “puto!” (which means fag). Seriously, tens of thousands of people calling the goalie a fag, every single time he kicks the ball. Just… interesting.
Did you know that Tequila is a real town? Seriously. It’s where the liquor originally came from. Tonio, a German guy named Tómas, and I went one weekday. Our plan was to go to a distillery called Don Kiko. We got a little lost, so I stopped and asked for directions. A tall guy came out, smiled, and said, “I’ll walk you there, free of charge! By the way, you want to buy some weed?” or something to that effect. The next thing he asked us was where we’re from. I was the first to answer, “Los Estados Unidos,” I said. “Odio” he responded, which means I hate. Aaaaawkward. But as promised, he delivered us to the distillery we were looking for.
They gave us a short, free tour, and at the end the tour guide told us that they would try to get us drunk so we would buy more tequila. Also as promised, they tried to get us drunk. You could buy 5 liters of tequila for about 10 bucks, and it was good. Not wanting to carry around 5 goddamn liters of tequila, we opted for a regular bottle of a good one.
The guy who dropped us off at the distillery came back and started drinking with us. He said he wanted to take us on a tour of Tequila, and that he was going to go get his truck. He came back with his daughter and we went out to his truck. It didn’t have a backseat.
“Should some of us get in the bed of the truck?” someone asked.
“No, we can all fit inside,” he answered.
So the five of us piled in the front of a truck together. His daughter sat on his lap. Tonio straddled the stickshift. I leaned forward, and Tómas leaned out the window. We drove around the town looking for the daughter’s mother to drop her off. Once we found her, the real fun started.
We called him Filimon. He drove like a fucking maniac. He would pass any car he wanted, whenever and wherever he wanted. He would pass cars in the ditches, he would pass five cars at once. He would pass cars when he had absolutely no time to pass cars, because he knew cars in the other lane would stop. He would pass cars by going the wrong way in one way lanes. At one point we were driving the wrong way down a one way street when we stumbled onto some cops. He leaned out the window and greeted them, and they waved back.
“Everyone knows me in this town,” he said. “You guys bought tequila right?”
So we started drinking in his truck, including him. I have no idea if it made his driving any scarier, because I don’t think it could’ve gotten much worse. I think the tequila at least helped to calm me down. I grinned from ear to ear as we sped around the town, our chauffeur leaning out the window to greet almost everyone he saw in the streets.
At one point he was trying to pass a car on the highway on the right shoulder. The only problem was that a person happened to be walking there. We sped up and headed straight for the guy in the road, up until the point where I was sure we were about to murder a man. Tomás yelled something, and Filimon slammed on the breaks at the last second and got back into the driving lane.
Every time he saw a friend in the road he stopped to ask for weed. Finally someone had some, and we went to his house. He came back with a grocery bag full for about $5. Oh, Mexico.
Filimon was a great tour guide though. He brought us to Agave fields and distilleries. He brought us to Los Lavaderos, which is where people wash clothes and other things:
“This place fills up with women washing clothes,” he told us. It was empty. About 10 minutes later, there were 20 women there washing this and that. It was crazy.
He brought us to a scenic viewpoint overlooking some canyons close to Tequila, and told us the local legend. Everything in Mexico has a legend. Every alley, street, building, mountain has a legend.
We finally went to a creek to smoke and relax before heading back on the bus to Guadalajara. What a day! Thanks to our super entertaining, friendly, and absolutely insane tour guide. Major props.
Chapala and Ajijic
South of Guadalajara is Lake Chapala, the biggest lake in Mexico. Tonio, Tómas, and I went on a day trip to two small towns on the lake. The first was Chapala. We ate tortas ahogadas and walked around town. You can take a boat ride out to an island on the lake, but we decided against it.
Ajijic is just a little to the west. We took a local bus, which was packed, and while there were already a lot of people standing in the aisle, two guys with guitars came on board. People made room for them, and they stood in the aisle, leaned against the seats behind them, and played several songs. Both played and singed, and we had the best seats in the house, right in front of them. It was amazing. The bus was weaving and throwing the passengers left and right. The performers just leaned hard and played through everything. I loved it.
Ajijic was pretty, although there were a lot of gringos, and it was pretty obvious because even a lot of the signs were in English.
After two weeks it was time to hit the road again. Guadalajara will have a special place in my heart though. I enjoyed my time there so much and met some amazing people. All good things must come to an end though. To the next adventure!
Penned on May 18, 2015 by Kevin Sweet.