Guadalajara, Mexico’s second city with a population of around 4.4 million (incredibly, only about a 6th of that of the capital).
This was our next stop where we hoped to see a few sights, before launching ourselves into a few cities/towns along the Mexican Pacific coast.
Another few hours on an intercity bus (where we each received a free drink, sandwich & packet of biscuits) was followed by a rather squashed experience on a local bus to get us downtown.
Guadalajara had greeted us with a little rain on arrival, but by the time we’d left the buses behind us, the sun was again shining, perfect for the 20 minute walk ahead.
Our destination was Blue Pepper Downtown, a hostel which we quickly learned on arrival, had at least a sense of humour!
With the afternoon fairly hot, and us pretty tired after an already long day, we weren’t really in the mood for much.
We completed a preliminary wander of the historical centre with its grand main cathedral, before finding a perch at an outdoor bar near one of the main plazas.
A few beers and a round of nachos (which ultimately became dinner) and we were happy to call that a day, returning to our hostel.
Here we met our dorm roommates for the first time, a pretty friendly Austrian couple who were heading up to Los Mochis via Tequila, and became pretty eager to pick our brains regarding El Chepe after they discovered we’d ridden it only weeks earlier (they gave us the heads up that Tequila tours were much cheaper from the main square, rather than through the hostel).
The next morning saw us up early, as we’ve discovered often on this trip, too early for much to actually be happening in Mexican towns and cities (we’d always assumed they’d be up early to work before the heat of the day got too much).
Still, eventually the city began to rise (we’d earlier indulged in a breakfast of what tasted like donuts and muffins that had been deep fried) and first thing we did was book our tour to Tequila for the following day, at the much cheaper price.
This left us the day to explore, and Guadalajara, another colonial gem was a pretty good place for that. The ingredients were the same. Grand plazas, stately municipal buildings, colourful people, and decadent churches.
We’d already decided on heading to the Mercado San Juan de Dios, a huge undercover market (one of Mexico’s largest), to look for some lunch, where along the way we were able to check out Guadalajara’s UNESCO heritage listed Instituto Cultural de Cabanas.
Originally built as a home for the needy (orphans and invalids), it is now a cultural institute home to art exhibitions and apparently some of the countries more impressive murals.
We however, didn’t see any of that, baulking at the 70 peso entrance price!
It was a short stroll from here to the bustling Mercado San Juan de Dios, and we made a beeline directly to the area housing the food stalls (we did earlier complete a quick reconnaissance mission, so already knew where to go).
We wandered a little, before eventually taking our place at a stall selling birria, where we ordered a taco each (they looked quite sizable).
This stewed goat looked pretty tasty, in fact the city has a reputation for it, so we were looking forward into tucking into these.
Queue the hushed crowd as we tucked into our tacos, dribbling with juice and sauce…
What an anticlimax!
The meat was tender, but the whole thing was so, so bland, the only flavour coming from onion and coriander (cilantro) which we’d added ourselves.
Our lunch experience wasn’t all bad at least, as we’d managed to grab ourselves a fresh sugarcane juice (which we haven’t enjoyed since South-East Asia) which we used to wash the meal down.
Perhaps it was a poor choice, but we decided to walk a few kilometres from our hostel to a local cemetery to pass the afternoon (this was the hottest part of the day).
I’m assuming it was the lack of shade, but it truly felt further!
There’s something special about wandering around these sorts of places, yet obviously sad as well.
Not so much for their passing, but when you reach neglected, overgrown parts of the complex, it’s more a realisation that many of these have not been visited in years or decades. Their memory forgotten…
Relaxing back at our hostel over a couple of beers, our dinner contemplations were ruined by the sudden din of pouring rain!
Before long, the streets were ankle deep, and our plans to walk across the historical centre to try the most highly regarded Birria in town were abandoned (despite lunch, we still hadn’t given up on this).
Instead, we opted for a short dash down the street to a pretty tasty taco stand (where we’d had lunch our first day, and also where we took James, a fellow Australian and hostel guest when he turned up on our last day).
We also managed to top up our beer supplies, so all in all, a mission completed well.
The day that followed was our trip to Tequila (which you can read about separately, but ultimately our late return scuppered our plans to attend the wrestling).
What could we do instead? Well we went to said Birria place we’d neglected the evening before!
For our final day (later in which we would meet and share dinner and a couple of beers with a new Australian friend, James), we were off on a side trip to the town of Chapala, to fittingly see, Lake Chapala.
This required a lengthy morning walk to a local bus station, where to our surprise (possibly to keep vagrants out), there was a 5 peso fee, simply to enter the bus terminal!
The walk didn’t trouble us, after all, we are well equipped with our ever trusty walking ‘shoes’!
It was possibly an hour, maybe a little more (we’d gotten very lucky with our timing at the bus terminal and essentially been able to board a bus straight away), and we were deposited right near the main street of the lakeside town, Chapala.
First impressions? Hmmm, unsure, there wasn’t much happening, so we made a bee line directly for the waterfront.
This certainly wasn’t the bustling town we’d expected, and although there were many Ice cream vendors walking their carts, and down by the main pier boatmen attempting to lure customers, there was one key thing lacking.
There were few tourists. Only the occasional westerner was sighted, and almost as few Mexicans.
The lake itself looked very sad, the water levels so low that cars can drive out almost the length of the entire pier!
In scenes reminiscent of Lake Meade in the United States, it appears the water demands of Mexico City & Guadalajara have really but a strain on what this lake is able handle.
There were still a handful of boats moored near the piers tip, their captains trying to lure us on trips to some of the lakes islands.
Perhaps it was our mood after seeing the lake, or something to do with the gloomy skies, but we weren’t at all interested.
Wandering along the waterfront, didn’t improve the picture for us.
Restaurants, some of which looked capable of seating several hundred people at a time sat empty, side by side, with few opportunities of luring any customers seeming likely on this particular day.
Hopefully it was more to do with the time of year (being low season and all), although I’d suspect the present state of the lake may also be a factor as well. What were once waterfront views, are now several hundred metres further distant from this new shoreline…
There was one highlight which was gleaned from this to date, rather disappointing excursion to Chapala.
We decided to, after a lunch of quesadillas, stop by one of those Ice cream vendors we’d spied earlier, and feeling curious, ordered ourselves a cone of Elote (corn) flavoured goodness.
Complete with corn kernels within, we were unsure how this one would go (given that we both love corn).
It was actually incredibly delicious! We’d not hesitate at all, to order it again (in fact, I’m looking forward to doing so)!
Back in our Guadalajara hostel, as already mentioned, a pretty cool Australian by the name of James, so our final evening was whiled away over some good conversation, a few tacos and several beers…
* To get to Chapala, we had to walk to Guadalajara’s old bus terminal (the Antigua Central Camionera on the corner of Dr Michel & Los Angeles).
* The fare for the trip (which was just under an hour) was $45.00 pesos per person (one way) plus there was a $5.00 peso fee just to enter the terminal!