It’s about 9-30 in the morning, and I’m sitting at the communal computer in Hospedarte’s living area with a cup of instant coffee, trying to figure out how to type a colon on the keyboard in front of me. People are shuffling around, making breakfast, and watching a Mexican version of “Cops.”
Guadalajara! I got in Thursday night after a super quick flight from New York, and saw for the first time the city that is going to be my home for the next several months. Guadalajara is huge, a maze of stubby white buildings spreading across a verdant plain. The city is surrounded by rippling hills and the enormous Lago Chapala to the south.
I’m staying at a hostel in a neighborhood called Colonia Americana, which is sort of the hip, newer part of town. Restaurants and bars abound (everything from delis to sushi joints, american-style burger palaces, ice cream parlors, the bizarrely named “Wing’s Army,” a bar decked out in olive and camo decor, and last but not least, the famed Calle Los Tacos…more on that later) . Also, weirdly, there are tons of stores selling office furniture. The main avenues here are broad and feature fountain-laden medians that are paved with orange tiles. Most of the streets are lined with oak and palm trees…definitely a beautiful place!
The historic district lies on the other end of town, a 20 minute walk down la calle Vallarta, the city’s main artery. Grungy bars and small taco stands give way to broad plazas paved with tiles, large department stores, a few huge cathedrals, and even a large government building in the style of the Greek Parthenon. The whole area is beautifully lit at night, and always packed with families, street-hawkers selling plastic toys, balloons, and bags filled with chips, orange snacks that look like pork rinds and taste like fried flour, and sweets.
Like any city, Guadalajara definitely has its fair share of poorer areas. I found this out first hand when, two days ago, I decided to go for a “little” run to check out the area with two other guys from the hostel. I didn’t realize they were both avid long-distance runnners until we were about 5k in to the run, totally and completely lost in a run-down area of town. Guadalajara is a very industrial city, with entire districts of factories with gated, guarded entrances, broken sidewalks, and apartment buildings of cracked, tan stucco. At the same time, some of these areas are bustling and so full of life, as we soon found out.
Jogging is apparently a bit of a novelty here. In fact, we only saw one other runner the whole time we were out, and got more than our fair share of perplexed stares. At one point, we were running down a narrow sidewalk, buses and trucks belching past on our right, towards a group of tough-looking twenty somethings hanging out in the open bay of a mechanic’s garage. As we jogged up to them, one of the guys feigned a look of terror and clutched his friend’s shoulder, cowaring behind him. Playing along, I ran at them fult tilt, whooping and waving my arms. They looked genuinely concerned for a millisecond, and then all of us burst into laughter as I veered off and we ran past. Later, we ran past a high school as hoards of students were leaving for lunch, and actually got cat-called by a group 14 year old girls wearing matching school uniforms (Papacito, papacito!). By the time we made it back to the hostel, we’d run 11k and I was about ready to explode. The whole time, I felt much safer than I ever have in the tougher parts of Las Vegas and D.C.
I’ve been spending most of my time here hanging out with other people staying at the hostel. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some really great folks and become fast friends with a few. A lot of the people here actually study or work in Guadalajara, and most are from Mexico, so I’ve been hearing (and speaking) lots of Spanish and improving a ton. My telcel phone is filling up with names and numbers, and I have offers (that I’ll definietly take advantage of) to stay with some new friends in Monterray and Mexico City. Surprisingly, hanging around and playing Lotteria, cards, and just talking with the people has been as rewarding as the challenge and excitement of being in a new city. I feel more experienced, more capable than I did the first time I travelled alone, which is both encouraging and kind of sad. There’s nothing to match the bewildered, nervous, wonderful feeling of turning up in a strange city with only a backpack for first time in your life, and I don’t think you can ever feel that way again. The magic of travelling is still there for me, but some of the nervous excitement is gone.
My time’s about up, so I’ll give you a quick round-up of the week’s events before I sign off (imagine a colon here):
Walking and running all around town, watching some amazing dancers at a salsa club, learning (with mixed success) how to ask girls to dance in spanish, chatting up cab drivers and hopping on my first bus, getting lost (figuratively)in an enormous market, visiting a casino (sorry, they didn’t let me take pictures), seeing a Fourtet and Circle square concert in Zapopan, and discovering the wonder that is La Calle Los Tacos, a street filled with carts selling all manner of tacos from 10pm to 6 in the morning. It’s usually packed with people in-between clubs or looking for a greasy, delicious end to the night. Tacos cost 60 cents, and the meat is served steaming and greasy from huge flat stovetops with onions chopped translucent-thin, mountains of diced cilantro, and a battallion of sauces of varying agressiveness. I’ve been back almost every day!