Monday, February 15, 2010


The drive was lovely through the high plains, across bridges 150 metres high, past the twin volcanoes, through the ranch country that spawned all the vaqueros we saw in Colima.

As we approached Guadalajara, we stopped at an Oxxo and took a few minutes with the three partial maps we had to try to find out just how to get to the Mac service centre for our ailing computers. A nice young guy stood with us for fifteen minutes showing us in detail how to get there, giving us his cell phone number in case we needed any more help in his city.

The approach into town was a real surprise. Guadalajara is much more modern than I expected. We tried out a campsite but it was just too far from the centre. We continued on into the city and found the road we were meant to be on but it was closed, as it is every Sunday, for cyclists and walkers. We finally got into the mall, a place that would look at home in any big city in the world. There is definitely some cash in Guadalajara. The mac folk were very helpful but it looked like we were going to be sticking around the city for a while as we waited for the new trackpad to be shipped from Mexico City.

We drove some more through bumper to bumper traffic, finally finding one of the hotels we were shooting for, a colonial building very close to the centre. Our room was unbelievably cheap and we said yes in our desperation to get the hell out of the car. We dumped our stuff in our room, fifteen foot ceilings, eleven-foot doors, incredible plasterwork ceiling. The big square room had been retrofitted with partitions to make a bathroom and a second bedroom, a nice treat, we thought, for Valentine's day. 

We went straight out to the market and parked ourselves on some stools at a great taco stand. We walked around town and had a quick look through the courtyard of the regional museum. By some crazy coincidence, we managed to time our visit with the 468th anniversary of the city. The city is chock-full of colonial churches, pedestrian walkways, beautiful squares and jardins, all of it full of free cultural events to mark the day. We went down to the Mercado San Juan de Dios, touted as the biggest covered market in Mexico -- whole city block and more on three levels linked with red brick ramps and a central shaft of light. We were definitely on the seedier side of town. The boulevards were lined with strip clubs -- nondescript facades with hidden entrances and a steady stream of men skulking in and out. On the street corners, we saw dozens of mariachi bandmembers, jackets and pants beribboned in gold coins & chains. We were looking for the Coliseo for a little Mexican wrestling (lucha libre). We saw a crowd gathered and headed over. The line went around the corner, hundreds of families with young kids. We installed the kids in the line and went off to find the ticket booth. When we got there, we asked for advice about the best place to sit. On the floor close to the action was the answer but that meant another taquilla so we grabbed the kids. Aside from the entertainment value, it's easy to see why this event is so popular with families, tickets for niños only cost 5 pesos. We walked into the big concrete building, handing over our backpack & camera (after seeing the quality of some of the pirated videos for sale in Mexico it's understandable that they want to control the distribution of wrestling photos). We watched a cluster of kids surround a wrestler as he entered the building, looking much like someone making his way through an airport rolling a little black bag (except for the mask!) The luchador very patiently squatted beside every child, flexing his muscle to make for a good shot. Henri edged forward and very bashfully stood in front of him for me. Wil got himself a beer (two poured into one paper cup) and we headed to our seats on the aisle.

There was a vendor for every five members of the audience, hawking figurines, beers, wrestling photos, magazines, masks, popcorn and cotton candy. My favourites were the ones selling jicama, little chunks of raw veg with a squeeze of lime and a generous shake of salt. The piped-in music started, sadly there was no live band (unlike last year's match in Mexico City.) Behind the ring a ramp led up to a large screen. The smoke machine got going, a tacky little light show on the screen and then the announcer dashed down the ramp to the ring. A quick introduction of the refs (to boos or cheers) and the action began. To rabid whistling, down the ramp comes a young woman in a cherry-red skintight hotsuit, long black hair tucked behind a wide gold hairband, big hoops in her ears on black stilettos, with an extra inch of wedge under the ball of her foot for good measure. I was sure she was going to tip over. She stood at the bottom of the ramp and gyrated to the personalized intro music as each wrestler made his entrance. The wrestlers walk on stage to the middle of the screen, strike a ferocious pose and then stalk down the ramp, touching kids' hands as they go. 

The show was fantastic. Four matches, some two on two, some three on three. The trouble the wrestlers have gone to to create unique identities for themselves is astounding. As the matches progress, so does the quality of the show, the blows and the toll they take looking more and more real. Some of our favourites: Super Porky, a squat man with an enormous belly who struck down his enemies with a lethal belly buck; the mini-wrestler dressed all in white who looked like a shrunken superhero -- only four and half feet tall but he ran circles around his opponents, wrapping himself around an arm or leg and not letting go; there was the one who grossed out his opponents by spitting great gobs into the air and catching them in his mouth; and my personal favourite, Massimo, the chubby gay wrestler, pink mohawk, Roman-type togs who took obvious pleasure in being held or held down and whose ultimate weapon was a big juicy kiss.

The real beauty of Lucha Libre, aside from the fact that no one (including the wrestlers) takes it very seriously is the time the wrestlers take to sign autographs or shake kids' hands before and after the match, never walking away from a kid with a pad to sign. A boy who sat right in front of us ran down to the ring at the start of every match and always came back with something to show his family. We bought masks for the kids and they wore them through the whole match. A really fun way to spend an afternoon in Mexico, jeering, laughing and, after an especially good move, screaming "Otra, otra, otra! (another, another, another!)"

We walked back through Guadalajara's million squares, catching a glimpse of the headliner performing at the end of the evening's lineup in the main square. The place was packed. Couples held each other, everyone swayed and sang along to the oh-so-sweet love song. Mexicans sure do love love.

We were starving but everything but the Chinese restaurants were closed. Normally we'd be cheering for Chinese but when we'd walked past them earlier in the day we'd shaken our heads about how unreasonably cheap the all-you-can-eat buffet was. The lineups outside had been astounding and we couldn't quite believe we were actually going in. The atmosphere is rarely the focus of a Chinese restaurant and Wei Chan was no exception, but we were pretty happy to be mounding crunchy vegetables on our plates.

Everyone was exhausted by the time we made it back to our hotel. Our initial look hadn't been very thorough. Any charm the building had had in its heyday was very effectively erased by the fluorescent tubes mounted on the aqua walls. The air was awful, nothing like a smoking room with a carpet and no window, lumpy pillows, sheets with pills... Gross. Wil woke up at five and by the time I was awake, he'd made a new plan. Number one on the list was finding a new hotel. We fed the kids some dulces as we searched. We found a gorgeous place which has been an inn since 1610. Central courtyard with a stone fountain, above it a chandelier ten feet across and above the chandelier a stained glass ceiling that I kept expecting James Bond to come crashing through. A grand staircase led up to the rooms which were all off a a stone verandah which framed the courtyard. Our rooms were so pretty, ceilings high enough for two floors, in rich wooden beams, balconies with shutters looking out over the street. The kind of place that makes you feel you've stepped into another more civilized time.

We walked back to the market for lunch. We saw some ladies chowing down on a "buffalo"-- a burrito stuffed with meat and beans and covered in salsa and melted cheese. When the waiter brought it to us, he looked us up and down and then asked Wil if by any chance we'd been to the lucha the night before. Yes?! I sold your daughter some popcorn, he said. Five million people in Guadalajara, what are the odds? What a nice guy. I got the sense that what he really wanted to do was untie his apron, quit for the day and take us on a personalized tour. Instead, in five minutes, Pancho tried to convey a lifetime's worth of advice about his city. I felt ridiculous but I got all choked up when we said goodbye.

We went up the street looking for a place to get our new backpack and Henri's watchstrap repaired. We found a dusty little hole in the wall, banda music blasting, two guys lost in a sea of industrial sewing machines of all descriptions. Ten minutes later, all the seams of the backpack had been resewn, Henri's strap fit and we'd watched people of all shapes and sizes stand in one shoe or empty the contents of their bags as they waited for repairs. It was so refreshing to see the kinds of things that are too often seen as disposable treated with a little love and care.

We made our way back across town to see how the computers were faring. It was looking like we were going to have to be in the Guadalajara area a little longer than anticipated, but we were both happy about it. We went upstairs to take the kids bowling which was a total hoot. Bowling has changed a lot since I was a kid. The technician got me to type in all our names and asked which belonged to the kids, then rigging the lanes to lift up very discreet bumpers on the inside of the gutters to keep their ball in play.

We headed back to the market for a disappointing try at supper. Everything was closing up. Mexicans eat on a very different schedule than we do and obviously have different ideas about what should be served at particular times of day. The torta (sandwich) places, for example, are only open til about 2 in the afternoon, the ceviche places, too, don't seem to be considered dinner fare. We found Pancho there again, who was just getting off for the day, and he directed us to a soup stand where we sat and polished off a couple of bowls of caldo de pollo.
It started pouring on the walk home. We dashed from awning to awning trying to stay out of the rain. Once we were back at our hotel the kids went up to the room to watch a little tv and Wil & I sat in the courtyard sipping delicious margaritas, all the while being serenaded by a man strumming and singing old Mexican ballads.

Guadalajara rocks.

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