Guadalajara, Mexico

A very tiny plane to Cancun, then a flight to Mexico city, a short lay-over there and another short flight to Guadalajara makes for a long day and we are glad to arrive in time for dinner with friends Donna and Ron.

The second largest city in Mexico, Guadalajara is a cultural and educational centre. We lose count of the number of universities we see from atop the hop-on hop-off bus. Many churches, cathedrals and basilicas as well. Beer and tequila factories too. A mariachi band plays in the lounge of our hotel the night we arrive.

Our hotel, the Francis, is 400 yrs old and lays claim to being the oldest in the city. The lobby, lounge and interior balconies are impressive. Unfortunately the rooms have been both neglected and unfashionably renovated over the centuries and could use a major face-lift! But the location, in the heart of the centro historico, is perfect, as are the views from the rooftop terrazzo.

We spend a day on the bus, touring the various neighbourhoods, getting off for lunch and a stroll around one called Tlaquepaque (try saying that after too many cocktails!), a very upscale suburb full of exquisite art and craft shops. Gorgeously groomed women lunch at sidewalk cafes. Music and food everywhere.

And for some distinct contrast we go to Tonala the next day for the local Sunday market where plastic factory-made ****, cheap clothes and shoes and truly awful mass-produced “art” is sold under tarps held aloft by rickety metal scaffolding. UGH!

A visit to the Museum of Art for a bit of culture features an artist with a cow obsession. And a photography exhibit of street scenes, mostly dead birds lying in gutters full of trash. Begs the question: what counts as art?

As well, we spend a couple of hours in the Teatro Degollado, listening to the Guadalajara symphony orchestra play Schuman and Schubert. We go not so much because we like symphony music, but because we want to see the inside of the theatre, and are rewarded with some amazing music and the bonus of a visiting chinese pianist whose fingers defy the laws of kinetics. She plays for an hour with no sheet music!

Our last day here we board a bus for a day trip to Ajijic (pronounced “ah-hee-heek”). On the shores of Lake Chapala, it is the winter home of many Canadians. In fact, we are told it is the largest community of Canadians and Americans outside of those two countries. Thankfully we see fewer expats than would be expected. Lots of art galleries, lovely courtyards, colourful blooms, friendly locals. And dogs. Everywhere. Cruising the cafes looking for handouts and opportunities to be petted. We oblige.

It is impossible to sit down in a cafe and not be serenaded by some form of musician. In Lake Chapala we get Fernando, a muy viejo abuelo (very old grandfather!), who tells us he is the Mexican Frank Sinatra and proceeds to sing a not bad rendition of “My Way”.

Tomorrow we head to Puerto Vallarta, on the coast, for a few final days of indulgence. PV is an old haunt and we’ve been there more times than we can recall. It’ll be a great place to end what has been yet another fantastic adventure in Mexico!

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