A Mexican Adventure

Guad cathedral exterior

I recently returned from a ten-day vacation in Mexico. Three days in Guadalajara (with a day trip to Lake Chapala and Ajijic), the remainder of the time in Mexico City (with a day trip to Cuernavaca).

An Unusual and Unplanned Trip!

  • Mexico has never been anywhere near the top of my list of intriguing vacation destinations. I’d visited Mexico only once before, decades ago, and to a totally different part of the country, the Yucatan (Merida, the ruins at Chitchinitza, Isla Mujeres). Europe is where I usually choose to spend my out-of-the-USA travel dollars.
  • Instead of my concocting and planning this vacation far in advance, my Mexico trip was the result of an unexpected and fairly recent invitation of a friend who was going there – and he was going at the invitation of a friend of his. (This friend-of-a-friend – also a librarian, also recently retired – was someone I had heard of for many years, but had never met; he travels to Mexico frequently and speaks fluent Spanish.)
  • The unexpected invitation to join these other two guys (Roy, now living in Phoenix, and Steve, now living in El Paso) in Mexico was a welcome resolution to the disappointing (if self-inflicted) quandary of not having planned a trip abroad to celebrate my retirement in mid-March. Also welcome was my not having to do any preparation for this trip…or to learn any Spanish. Instead, I relied on Steve for both these things; Steve even made our hotel reservations and booked our flight from Guadalajara to Mexico City, as well as masterminding our numerous mass transit logistics and cab rides,  giving advice on ATM withdrawal amounts and on tipping various service people, helping Roy and me decipher restaurant menus, etc.)
  • Because of the relatively low hotel prices in Mexico, we could afford to stay in what I considered to be two fairly plush places (the Hotel Cervantes in Guadalajara, the PF Suites in Mexico City)! Both hotels were modern, comfortable, and – thanks to Steve’s familiarity with both Guad and Mexico City – within walking distance to many of the areas we spent time exploring.

Some Highlights of What We Saw and Did

Guadalajara:
  • a double-decker city bus tour
  • the cathedral and several hours of people-watching in the town square,

Cal & Steve in the Guad zocolo

with its Victorian gazebo (complete with serendipitously-scheduled band concert):

Guad zocolo gazebo band performance

Guad Library #1

Guad Library #1 interior

and this one:

MEXICO CITY - Cal & Steve in metro biblioteca

  • A day-long excursion to the now-engulfed-by-Mexico-City town of Zapopan.

Although Roy and Steve got to see it, what I didn’t see in Guadalajara (despite three attempts!) was the interior of the Teatro Degollado, something my former partner Larry, who lived in Guadalajara a few years ago, had specifically recommended to me. I did get to see the exterior, however (three times, in fact):
Guad teatro exterior (Steve looking on)

Lake Chapala and Ajijic: 

  • Lake Chapala, about an hour’s bus ride from Guadalajara, is the country’s largest lake.
  • Ajijic is one of the small towns alongside the lake, and where lots of Americans and Canadians have retired. We had lunch there, explored several of its narrow, colorful streets, and strolled along the town’s modern boardwalk:

Boardwalk at Ajajic

Mexico City:

  • A day-long, very extensive double-decker bus tour of the city (and environs) that included a trip to the charming former village (now engulfed by M.C) of  Coyoacan, where Frida Kahlo’s house is located. (Alas, the house was closing to the public just as we arrived, so I saw only its colorful exterior:)

Cal dismayed to find Frida Kahlo's house in Cocoyan had just closed

  • Steve took us the corner of a city park where older people gather every Saturday to tango, in all their circa 1930s dance-outfit finery.
  • We took an extended peek inside the amazing lobby of the city’s main post office:

Cal & Steve admiring the interior of the Mexico City post office (better shot)

  • We spend a day strolling through some of Steve’s favorite intown neighborhoods. Some of the architecture in these historic areas is quite surprising:

Mexico 2013 001

Palace of Fine Arts exterior, from top of tallest buildiing that Roy climbed
where we got to see the theater’s breathtaking Tiffany glass curtain:
Tiffany glass curtain in the Palace of Fine Arts
and sit directly under the building’s stained glass dome:
Stained glass ceiling window inside theatre at Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico City
and stroll around its ornate art-deco lobby:
Cal & Steve inside the art deco lobby of the Palace of Fine Arts

  • We booked a night-time double-decker bus tour of the facades (and one amazing interior) of the remaining “palaces” that rich citizens of the city lived in during the Spanish-colonial era.
  • Steve and I attended a Spanish-language play with an all-male cast. (I enjoyed the acting, but found out later on that I’d completely misunderstood the plot.)
  • Steve and Roy having already been there, I made a day-long solo trip to the temple complex at Teotihuacan (which predates even the Aztecs). My view from atop the “Pyramid of the Moon” (the shorter of the two highest “pyramids” there):

Mexico 2013 005

  • We wandered through the city’s gay district (several times, as it was very close to our hotel), enjoying the displays of public affection expressed by numerous very-in-love-with-each-other male couples.

Cuernavaca:

After Roy returned home, Steve and I made a day trip to Cuernavaca. In addition to touring the cathedral there and the busy town square, we explored:

Mexico 2013 003
Some General Impressions I’m Unlikely to Forget

  • The lucky weather we enjoyed: every day was bright and balmy; zero rain the entire trip.
  • It’s so dry in Mexico! (High altitude = everything inside you dries up: frequent water-drinking required. I got dehydrated at Teotihuacan – the government doesn’t allow bottled-water sales there, something I didn’t know and didn’t take precautions for.)
  • The large number of large trees that were covered in neon-colored blossoms. My favorites: the purple, the yellow, the red, and the orange ones.
  • The ubiquitous entrepreneurial activity! Instead of merely begging for money, everyone offers to sell you something (a shoe-shine, a scalp-massager, a self-adhesive sticker, a trinket – or  a performance:

Hustling for pesos at a traffic light

  • There was absolutely no aggressive pan-handling, however. I didn’t see a single person – the entire trip – who made me feel the least bit uneasy.
  • The tasty food! Undoubtedly due to Steve’s guidance, we enjoyed great food (at reasonable prices) at every meal we ate!

First meal in Guadalajara

  • The horrendous traffic! There are 28 million people in Mexico City – and I think I saw them all at least once. Equally impressive: the city’s public transit systems (subways, express buses, non-express buses), zillions of affordable cabs – even a network of dedicated bike paths and thousands of bikes owned by the government that anyone can rent from countless bike stands and leave at his/her destination.
  • Mexico City’s numerous tree-shaded boulevards, the monument-studded roundabouts, and the large number of public sculptures, mosaics, fountains, etc. (many of them very modern). As well as the miles upon miles upon miles of shabby-looking (if colorful!) houses and shops that I saw from the windows of my bus rides to areas outside the city’s historic center.
  • I really enjoyed the context Steve provided for what I was seeing, as well as his mini-lessons in Mexico’s complicated history.
  • The sweet-natured friendliness and unpretentiousness of the Mexican people.

(Roy took most of the photos displayed here.)

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5 thoughts on “A Mexican Adventure

  1. Everything looks pretty! I spent two weeks in Cuernavaca after my freshman year in college at a Girl Scout hostel – just too dumb and young to appreciate the opportunity fully! I did read a good book about Maxmillian and Carlotta back then though! Martha Hodge

  2. Nice photos and it sounds as though it was a great trip. It’s nice that Steve was so familiar with everything – and spoke Spanish to boot!

    Roger

    ________________________________

  3. Excellent blog, Cal. I’m thrilled you got to see so many of the architectural wonders of Guadalajara & Mexico City as well as natural wonders such as Lake Chapala & Teotichuacan. I’m equally thrilled that you at least got to see the outside of the Frida Kahlo house in Coyoacan, and even el Museo de Robert Brady in Cuarnavaca. You really traveled. Good for you!

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