A travel journal
to Guadalajara by El Gallo
Quote: Guadalajara may be Mexico's "Second City" (hard not to when Mexico City is the world's largest) but it's image and art is what most people associate with Mexico.
Hotel | "San Francisco Plaza"
It's a nice old colonial building with four courtyards inside, all with fountains and foliage. The older rooms are high-ceilinged and comfortable, some of the newer ones in the new wing pretty much resemble a Holiday Inn.
The Plaza out front is no great shakes, but is better than just a row of buildings--and it's just four blocks up Degollado to the famous Teatro Degollado, arguably the most famous and influential theater in Mexico. Two blocks further and you're on the Plaza de la Liberacion--Plaza Tapatia to the right, the Cathedral two blocks to the left.
Right in the center of things, yet fairly quiet (avoid the rooms over on the Sanchez side, where early buses can disturb you, though) and definitely gracious and comfortable, especially at this price.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 3, 2000
Hotel San Francisco Plaza
Degollado No. 267
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 3, 2000
619 Lopez Cotilla
But nowhere do you get the feeling of being in France more heavily than in the 400 year old Hotel Frances. Restored to it's former glory in 1981, the hotel was declared a national monument. And why not--Benito Juarez, Mexico's most beloved and greatest president (sometimes called the 'Lincoln of Mexico') used to stay there. The Frances is located right of the Plaza de la Liberacion, and just to set foot inside its lobby is to feel transported not only to Europe but to a bygone, more gracious time. The lobby bristles with overstuffed seating and bronze sculpture that looks like it belongs in a museum (or possibly bordello). A marble fountain plays in the center of the atrium lobby, with skylights three stories above, and feature frosted glass doors, yards of old oil paintings, polished wood booths for phones, concierge, and tobacco shop--and a cage elevator right out of 'Irma La Douce.' There is a rooftop patio for sunning, reading, loafing, or scoping out the city. Rooms vary in size, shape, and degree of luxury. There is an informal restaurant, the Rose Cafe, and at night you can dance to live music in the club, 'Maxims.'
This place is really fun. Even if you don't stay there, drop by the lobby to hear the piano tinkling--stand around and soak up the atmosphere, feeling like Phinneas Fogg or Hercule Poirot.
Calle Indpendencia and Mina
You can see the canyon well from the zoo--the Zoologico Guadalajara, way the hell and gone out Calzada Independencia ($1.50 US admission). There are buses.
Or continue past the zoo to the end of the line and enter a park with an open air restaurant looking directly down into the maw of the canyon. This is a great place to eat, sort of like a big barbecue that goes on all the time and serves anybody. Women cook over open fires and you sit on benches to look over the low wall that separates you from free fall.
Another great approach to the canyon is where the Amigos de la Barranca hang out, especially for the exercise-addicted. The Amigos' clubhouse is at the top of a unthinkably long set of stairs and paved paths leading to the bottom of the canyon (from which there is nowhere to go but back up that insane Stairway to Cardiac Arrest). And, you guessed it, they run down and back up. If you think you're hot shit for running marathons, try this vertical one and see how you do. If you make it back up, step over for a beer and some 'barbacoa.'
A warning: foreigners, particularly gringos, are ripe targets for tormenting, so keep a low profile. But if some maniac bores through the crowd to get you out there for some diverting entertainment, you best go along with the show.
It's an art form that you see around Mexico's larger cities, there's even an academy. Here's what: the 'payaso' (clown) gathers a crowd, mostly just be being there with a white face, maybe a tuxedo or something, and blowing a whistle or horn, or just cutting up. As the crowd gathers, the payaso may do some mime stuff, generally mocking the crowd. Then he moves into serious, one-on-one mocking. He will select people from the audience to come out and participate, often just dragging them out in spite of protests. Pretty young girls are popular, macho guys, anybody the honed instincts of the payaso thinks can be used to make funny. Once a troupe of innocents is assembled, ususally 4 or 6 people, half of each gender, the routine consists mostly of modeling behavior, such as flirting with others, browbeating the subjects into copying the payaso's behavior, then making fun of their performance, all without words, but with a find command of gestures, whistles, and expressions. As the victims get used to their status, or start hamming it up, the behavior gets a little wilder--I once had a payaso snatch a blushing young girl up and toss her into my arms. Looking up at the bearded face of an older gringo in whose arms she was helpless caused her to do some pretty priceless facial antics. The crowd just loved it. I didn't want to be there in the first place, The girl was mortified--but went home a hero with her buddies.
It's really a scream, and the people are the stars of it all, directed by the machiavellian payaso--whose payoff comes at the end with a passed hat. It's a pretty painless way to get into show business.
The 400 year old Cathedral itself is certainly worth a look: it's a classic Mexican cathedral and contains some very nice sculptures and details, especially in the small side chapels.
The Palacio de Gobierno dominates the south side of the plaza and contains two Orozcos, one hovering over the delegate's chairs in the Congress Chambers and depicting the freeing of Indian slaves. You can go up on the roof of the Palacio, by the way, for a great view of the downtown.
On the north side of the Plaza is the Regional Museum, which is a sort of perfect little museum. It has a dinosaur skeleton, for one thing. It has a really comprehensive history of the area from the creation of the universe to present, with much relics and dioramas. Upstairs is a collection of modern paintings by important Mexican artists, many local, like the scandalous Zuniga.
At the other end of the plaza, the cupola'ed Hospicio Cabanas is now a cultural center with everything from concerts to lectures, to shows of film, photography and sculpture. The most impressive attribute is the ceiling mural by Orozco, the 'Four Riders of the Apocalypse'--a wild, violent work full of distorted figures and a brooding, blazing sense of justice and destruction--Orozco's masterpiece. To keep from straining your neck, they thoughtfully provide benches to lay down on while viewing the ceiling--and if you want to be more mobile, they have little mirrors for that purpose. Which is more than you will get in the Sistine Chapel.
From the Hospicio it's only a few steps to the Libertad Market, from whence you can cross Calle Mina on an elevated walkway and visit the Plazuela de los Mariachis. Sit for a beer and the roving bands of musicians will approach you to sing for an amount to be determined (you should be able to get them down under 30 pesos, around $3 US). If you like mariachi music, this is where it all started and is THE place to hear it--sort of like the Grand Ol Opry.
Which works out, because your bus will also go through the little town of Tequila, which you've probably heard of in some connection or another. This is a funny place. After driving through all these dusty little towns, suddenly you hit Tequila, bright and prosperous and covered with fresh paint. Because every building in town (or at least visible from the highway) is painted with advertisements for noted Tequila distilleries. Even one of the smaller churches. My favorite slogan, "Orendain: The Family Tequila." This is where it originated of course, and most of the major brands keep a token plant here, although these days most tequila is made in big factories in Guadalajara. But you can stop off and buy it here. In fact you can get stuff not available elsewhere, like unlabeled plastic water bottles full of green, unaged, vintage-last-night tequila--white lightning with barbed wire implications. Guadalajara kids stop by and pick up a six pack of this stuff on their way down to the beach to court wrack and ruin. If your interest in tequila extends past the margarita level, you can learn a lot about its manufacture here, more colorful and complicated than normal booze. And you will pass through field after field of Weber's Blue Agave, from which tequila is made. (Sorry: it's not made of cactus, and does not contain worms. Deal with it.) The fields all have fences made of piled up rocks, since this is tough country and there isn't any wood around, just dirt and rocks. Much of this is explained (or at least befuddled) in the cool article, "Tequila: Medicine, Myth, or Menace"
By the way, if you go down to the coast the "other" way--to Manzanillo--you'll pass another nowhere little town called Autlan. No big deal except it's the birthplace of Carlos Santana. I always wave or toss a flower.
Monkey Junction, Afghanistan