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Why Guadalajara?

Why Guadalajara?

Guadalajara.  The Cathedral from Teatro Degollado

Guadalajara. The Cathedral from Teatro Degollado

I’ve lived in Guadalajara 14 years.  I chose it because it’s gorgeous and classy, not too far from the beach, is big enough to find work, and the people are friendly and beautiful.  My first visit was in the freezing rain at 1AM, while wrapped in a pink flannel sheet…

September 15, 2007

Why do we live in Guadalajara?

Well, Omar was born here.

Guadalajara is actually four cities rolled into one, kind of like the five boroughs of New York City.   Guadalajara is in the middle, with Zapopan to the west and Tlaquepaque and Tonala to the east.  We live just south of town, in the agricultural town of Tlajomulco de Zuniga.

Omar was born in Zapopan and grew up in Tonala.

I was born in Upstate New York, and how I settled in Guadalajara is a long story.

Although Guadalajara is Mexico’s second largest city, and even though it is known as the most Mexican city, home of Tequila and mariachi, I admit I had never heard of it when I started traveling.

On my first trip to Mexico I meet Lee and Neil on the train to Mexico City.  I was on my way to Oaxaca; they were headed for Guadalajara, which they described as a beautiful and classy place.  I missed it that trip.

A year later I traveled the length of Baja California—did you know it is longer than Italy?—and took the ferry to the mainland at Mazatlan.  It was cold and rainy at the beach, so I decided to head south, to Guadalajara.

What a ride.  There were torrential rains and floods, and the road was washed out most of the way to Guadalajara, often with huge, recently fallen boulders half blocking our path.  At one point we met a bus turned over on its side, and all the stranded passengers came aboard to ride with us.

The eight-hour ride stretched out to 17 hours, and we finally ended up in the Guadalajara bus station at 1 in the morning.

It was freezing–Guadalajara goes below 32 F most winters, and this was January.  I also learned that it had been raining for a week, very unusual in the dry season.  I wrapped up in my pink flannel sheet and waddled over to the information desk to see what my options were.

“There ARE no cheap hotels in Guadalajara, sir” the old poop at the desk told me, his nose in the air.  “$30 would be the most economical.”

Hmmmm.  Even with my limited experience, that sounded mighty fishy to me.

The Guadalajara bus station is a ways out, in Tlaquepaque on the border with Tonala, so walking to town was not an option, especially at 1 am in the rain.  Buses stopped running at eleven.  Stubborn (and cheap) as ever, I refused to pay the inflated night rates for a cab, especially since I had no idea where I wanted to go.

It was the wet and cold bus station for the night, then, with a cozy little pink fiberglass chair for my bed.

One-o’clock is about the worst time to get into town.  It’s too late to find anything open, and way too early to venture out on a new day.  At least I had two seats.  I put my pack on the other chair so I could cuddle it, wrapped all in the pink flannel sheet so I looked like Jabba the Hut, and tried to get some sleep.

Almost immediately two young ladies entered the station and made a beeline for Sr. Poop.  He turned to them, tight lipped.  I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I saw him shake his head and the girl’s jaws drop.  They looked around, and ended up sitting near me.  My unwashed, unshaven, lumpy pink blanket appearance must have been comforting to them.

“Did he try to sell you an expensive hotel?” I asked.  “No” they replied, in a gorgeous English accent.  “He said we would have to leave.  Today is Sunday, and the hotels in Guadalajara don’t open Sundays.”

“Oh my goodness” I thought.  “Looks like I’ll be spending another night in the bus sta….”  Hey—wait a minute!  I’m clever but just a bit slow.

“He said the hotels close on Sundays?”  “Yes.  We are going on to Mexico City.”  “But that’s crazy!  What do they do, kick everyone out Saturday night and lock the doors until Monday morning?  He’s full of baloney!”

Nevertheless, the girls left for Mexico City on the 4:45 bus, missing Guadalajara.  I stayed to take my chances.

I slept on and off.  The station is open to the wind, so it was a cold and uncomfortable night.  I toughed it out until 7am, then lugged everything onto a city bus and rode 45 minutes into downtown Guadalajara.

The weather was improving.  The grey sky was breaking up, and there were patches of blue.  By the time I stepped out of centrally located Hotel L as Americas (ten dollars a night, thank you) it was a beautiful day, clear and clean and warming up every hour.

What an incredible first introduction to Guadalajara!  It took my breath away.  Centro—downtown Guadalajara—has miles of pedestrian malls, chock full of landscaped fountains and street performers and interesting shops and colonial architecture.  The people are remarkably beautiful, and friendly to boot.

I stayed a week that first visit, exploring every corner of downtown.  I was on my way to be a park ranger in Costa Rica, but I knew I would be back.

To be continued…

Dan and Omar

Why Guadalajara, Part II

September 15, 2007

I was several months traveling through Central America, and then several more working as a park Ranger in Costa Rica.  I would have like to travel farther south, but around Christmas, on the Panamanian border, I found myself a little short of money.  Just a little.  Like, I would never make it home.

So I started the long trek north.  It was obvious by the time I hit Mexico I would need to do some work before I could continue on.  I aimed for Guadalajara.

“Hi Ma!”

“Hi Honey!  It’s great to hear from you.  Where are you?”

“I’m in Guadalajara.”

“That’s good.  Is that a country or a place or what is it?”

“It’s a city in Mexico.”

“Okay.  How are you doing for money?”  Can’t hide anything from Ma.

At that time the peso was something like 1200 to the dollar.

“I have 36 thousand pesos!”

“That’s WONDERFUL!”  How much is that in REAL money?”

“Uh, 30 dollars.”

“Get your ass back up here.”

But I stayed.  I wanted to see if I could find an apartment and a job in Mexico.  How much did a gallon of milk cost, and what was it like to skip New York’s long winter?

At one corner of Teatro Degollado was an apartment house with a beautiful, plant-filled courtyard.  It was owned by Doña Esperanza, who was in her mid-eighties when I moved in.  We were friends and occasional enemies for the next eight years.  She must have liked me, because she let me in without a deposit.  I had 30 days to come up with the rent.

After months of travel, my clothes were a complete disaster.   I had a white shirt that was halfway decent, and black jeans that were worn but had no holes.  Not a great interview outfit.  The worst were my shoes.  I had melted the soles off my sneakers on the Pacaya volcano, and had come through at the toes.  I had no socks.  I made a lovely first impression.

I had to dip into my millions and buy shoes.  Trouble is, at that time they didn’t sell size 13.  Nines were about the biggest ones you could get.  I finally ended up getting a pair of black Chinese slippers for $1.60.  I ended up schlepping in those slippers to 22 different job interviews.

I went for everything and anything.  “Wanted:  Attractive female between 18 and 25, unattached.”  I was there, feeling like Lurch in a long line of young lovelies.

I had a heck of a time with the want ads.  First, the above is not an exaggeration.  They can specify exactly who they want and who they don’t want—age, sex, appearance, religion.  Forget equal opportunity.  Most jobs won’t hire anyone over 40.

Then there was my Spanish, which was sketchy at best.  “Searching for workers, sexo indistinto.”  They want folks who you can’t tell their sex, like that Pat character?  No—they will hire either sex.  Ambos sexos (both sexes) means the same, but of course I reasoned they were only hiring hermaphrodites, which sounds unlikely now but made sense then, somehow.

“Ramo del calzado”—work in a branch of the shoe industry.  But I lived a few blocks up from the “Calzada,” a major thoroughfare that has nothing to do with shoes.  I thought the add said “Work just off the Calzada…”

Guadalajara is huge, and it was really tough trying to find where these jobs were.  Miravalle, Alamo, Loma Dorada, Dermatologico….  And getting around was a trip, but I was beginning to know the city.  I walked for hours every day, shuffling along in my Chinese slippers.  I went to hotels, travel agencies, factories, and everything with American in it—American Express, Kodak, Carrier, IBM.

Most interviewers looked at me like a little man had popped his head out of my nose and was waving hi.  They all wanted “solicitudes”—paperwork you buy at the stationary store.  You fill in all your data, and affix a little photo (“infantiles”)of your smiling mug at the top.  Ok fine, but bus fair, paperwork, and photos were steadily eating away at the family fortune.

I was down to 80 cents when I finally landed a job.  I was stunned.  In the middle of the tour around I wanted to go to the bathroom, and was so dazed I went into the ladies, with all my new employers watching.  “Funny,” I thought, “they don’t have urinals here in Mexico.”  I’m real clever but not too speedy.  It didn’t sink in until I was making my exit and there was a line of gals waiting for me to leave.

I could have died, but at least I had a job.  And the rest is another story.

Dan and Omar

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Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.