Thursday, October 22, 2015

City Living

Every time I've pulled into a big city, I've found myself... overwhelmed, perhaps? I definitely don't enjoy the "feel" nearly as much as when I pull into some small beach town, or a little village on some back highway. Big cities grow on me over time, but that first arrival is rough. Guadalajara was no different.

Colored fountains in Guadalajara
I'm gonna be honest, until a few days ago, I had no idea that Guadalajara was Mexico's second biggest metro area. I'd heard people mention the city, and I'd even met a few people from there - one in La Paz, a few in Sayulita - but I had no idea how big it actually was. After talking to some people about the size of the city, the traffic, the tech industry, and a few other things, I felt like I had a grasp of the city.

And still, when I pulled into town, I was a little overwhelmed. I'd picked out a few hostels that I wanted to check out in different areas, mostly near the Centro Historico. As I headed that way, however, I went through a neighborhood full of restaurants and bars that reminded me in some ways of North park in San Diego (where I lived the past few years). A little more upscale, themed restaurants, sushi places and burger joints, etc. I still headed straight to downtown, but after checking the first hostel out and finding no suitable safe parking, I headed back out to a hostel that was halfway between the hip neighborhood and downtown - I really felt like that would be an ideal place.

I got to the hostel and parked outside where I thought it was... and looked around confused. No signs that I could see, nothing that looked like a hostel. Exhausted from the ride (but thankfully not sweating nearly as bad as the past few days, due to the more moderate climate), I pulled out the phone and checked the location again. Finally found a door with the number "720" next to it, painted over, and a "720B" right next to that. I knocked tentatively. No answer.

Okay maybe that's not it. back on the bike, circle the block, check again. Pull over in a similar spot, verify address. Call the number listed on google maps, and after a confused conversation that was very difficult to understand (language barrier + static), discover that the number I'd called was not a hotel or hostel, and I'd just asked some random dude for a bed for the night.

Knock again. This time got a response. The 8 foot tall door opened with a creak, and the smell of marijuana wafted out as a guy with bloodshot eyes said hello.

"I'd like a bed for the night, is there one available?"

"Uh... I think so. Come in, sit down."

He went around the corner, and I heard him say something to someone. All of my stuff is still on the motorcycle, out of sight - which is not a situation I like to maintain for very long, especially not when it's just on a random sidestreet. It went quiet in the other room, but no one appeared. A few minutes later, I peeked my head around the corner and saw my greeter and another guy sitting at a table, smoke wafting in the air.

"Hey.. can I bring my stuff inside? I don't like it sitting outside unguarded."

"Oh yeah... uhhh... okay so here's the deal. Carlos isn't here and I can't get in touch with him. Here's his number, you can send him a message on WhatsApp and ask him... but you can't stay in the entry here since you're not technically a guest. Sorry."

After confirming that Carlos likely wouldn't be back for a few hours, I sent him a message, and decided to grab some food. I went looking for a good restaurant... but when a McDonald's sign appeared in front of me, I needed to look no further.

Don't get me wrong, I love tacos, and I've loved the local food here. I've been trying to pick small places for meals, to get a real taste of local stuff. But that Big Mac was exactly what I needed. It doesn't hurt that McDonald's has Wifi, and parking spots that are visible from seats inside. So I ate, and sat, and waited.

Sure enough, a little before 9:00 - and literally seconds after I'd just resolved to find a different place to stay because I couldn't wait longer - I heard back from Carlos that there was a bed available.

So back to the hostel I went, and this time was able to bring my things inside, and even pull the motorcycle inside the doors and into the entryway for security. The hostel had an interesting setup - the entry hallway opened up into a little courtyard with an open roof (that could maybe be closed if needed - it appeared that way, though I'm not sure). The rooms were all off to one side and had tall, narrow doors to enter them, and similar doors connecting them to each other. There were even windows the the central area on some of them. It reminded me of some museums I've been to.

I settled in for the night at the hostel on a creaky mattress - struggling to find a plug to charge my phone, actually - and rested up for a day of activities, waking periodically to swat the rather hungry mosquito who apparently shared my bed. After sleeping in a bit in the morning, I headed out to the Mercado San Juan de Dios, one of the things I was told to see.

Once I found the building, I walked to an entrance, walked in... and was stunned. The place is a maze of tiny little shops crammed full of merchandise with people hawking whatever they've got as you walk by. Every 10 steps there's an intersection and you can go any direction you want, and find more shops. Corner after corner after corner. I finally navigated out to an open-looking area, and found this

Looking down from the 3rd floor to the 2nd and the roofs of the 1st.

When I was first wandering in, I wondered why they were only selling hats, jeans, and shoes - but soon discovered that there's "regions" inside the market where similar vendors congregate. One section was primarily leather goods (belts, boots, and saddles) and sweets, another was groceries, another was jewelry and electronics.

There was even a bird vendor

I don't have room on the bike to buy anything and take it with me, but it was fun to wander and see what was available. Eventually I stopped on the second floor for some food, and after passing by a few vendors, saw a few of these things on the grill and decided to try them.

Note the meat juice from the first one I already ate.
A pizza-like crust, and then toppings - the basic one was cheese and butter, and they aren't kidding when they say butter. You can probably imagine exactly what it tastes like by taking a mini, Chicago-style pizza, and replacing the tomato sauce with popcorn butter. Yes, popcorn butter.

But it was delicious, and after stuffing myself with two (the other one, missing from the above photo, was with a meat and peppers combo), I grabbed a sugarcane juice from a nearby vendor and wandered out of the market and over to the museum.

The Hospicio Cabañas was founded as a hospital around 1800, but the real highlight of the museum that's there now is the mural done by José Clemente Orozco in the 1930's. I walked in... and just stood for a while. Until I noticed my ankle hurting, actually, and then I sat down and looked some more.

Panorama starting at one end and going up over my head to the other. As usual, click for larger.
Every wall, every surface between pillars, was covered with a different piece of art by this artist. I also got to see them restoring some of them - which was super interesting as well, to see exactly how they do that.

I wandered around a bit more in the rest of the museum, and while the other exhibits were good, they didn't live up to the mural. I made one more stop in that room on my way out of the museum, and then headed down the plaza to the cathedral.

Had to use a bit of panorama to get the whole thing in the picture.
The inside.
I didn't stay at the Cathedral long, and after a quick stop for a haircut I headed back to the hostel for some downtime in the evening. I was a little tired, but I was also a bit saturated with learning Spanish as well. I'd spent the whole day listening to it, attempting to speak it, struggling with it... most of my days have been like that, and it's mentally draining. I have had opportunities to speak English, but for many of them - like the Mexicans that I met at the Sayulita hostel - I felt guilty every time my lack of language ability forced them to switch to a language that only a few of them understood.

So while the people in the hostel were sitting around in the kitchen laughing, having a good time, and chatting (and they might have been producing some smoke as well), I sat on my laptop, pumped out a few blog posts, and bummed around on the internet. I wanted to be social... but I didn't have the energy for dealing with the language barrier.

On a whim, I checked couchsurfing to see if there were any events in the area, and that ended up being just the ticket. I found an "English practice group" for intermediate to advance speakers, discussing topics "ranging from religion to politics to sex or whatever else comes up." Even better, it was at a bar in the neighborhood that I had ridden through on my way in and had wanted to check out.

The group was easy to identify when I arrived - the English was sweeter to my ears than it had any right to be, and I quickly joined the conversation. We talked, and drank mezcal, and drank beer, and talked some more. A few more people showed up, some people left, and in between we talked about aliens, overpopulation, and anything else that popped into someone's head. And all of it was in English, and since it was an English practice group, I even spent very little time explaining things in Spanish to the less-proficient English speakers in the group than I might have otherwise.

By the end of the night it was down to three of us, and we started talking about learning languages, practicing, correcting, etc. The end of the night basically turned into a combination Spanish lesson for me and English lesson for them - with me explaining things like all of the different sounds "-ough" can make -
(Side note: a fun way to start explaining this is to use "tough" and then add one letter at a time to get "trough," "through," and "thorough." Four words, four different sounds out of those four letters.)
- and them explaining why "move" and "hide" in Spanish both require you to always say what you're moving or hiding, even if it's just yourself.

I left that evening feeling rejuvenated. A night of just plain old conversation in English was really what my brain needed, I think. And while I was a bit overwhelmed at first, I felt like I saw a decent amount of Guadalajara for a single day - I discovered enough to feel like, at least so far, it's the city I'd be most likely to move to if I were to live in Mexico.

So hopefully next time I pull into a big city I can keep this experience in mind, and remember that one of the advantages of a big city (and one of the reasons I love living in one back in California) is that you can find most anything you want in a city large enough - even some people to just sit down and talk in a comfortable language with.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you got to take a break and use some English. We call "ough" the Monster Phonogram in Kindergarten: "o, oo, uf, off, aw, ow, the monster Phonogram!" Nora says, hi, she's playing with your tiger & bear.