We traveled by bus from our quiet little world in La Cruz to Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico where the traffic, the noise, and the activity was all a bit intimidating and had me wondering what the heck we had gotten ourselves into this time. With nothing familiar to help us get our bearings as we arrived into the big city, and with no announcements from the bus driver or obvious signs telling us where we were, we hoped we were getting off at the right stop. The bus station itself was more like a large airport with different terminal buildings, gates, and lots and lots of people rushing in every direction. However, being the indomitable travelers that we are we soon found a friendly face, a map, a taxi, and whoosh, we were on our way to the hotel. It’s now more than a week later and we’re a bit more relaxed in this big city, though it’s definitely a busy, busy place and we’ll be glad to get back to our peaceful Happy Dance next week.
The reason we came to Guadalajara was to go to school. We have both been struggling with our Spanish and getting frustrated that we can’t have a longer conversation than to ask directions, or where someone is from, how many kids they have, or what they do for a living. So, our first week of school was spent trying to awaken some of those brain cells that we know we must have had at some point in our lives. Since our current lifestyle is wrapped around sleep, eat, swim, cerveza, swim, eat, sleep….we had to figure out how to wake up to an alarm in the morning, what all those cars were doing on the highway, and why the heck the coffee wasn’t making our brains or our eyes focus. We probably should have planned ahead and kept a few more brain cells alive from our youth, but hey, we’re still learning and every now and then a light bulb comes on…and DOH..! I get it now!
The school is located in Tlaquepaque (repeat after me…te-lac-kay-pak-kay..!), and our hotel was on the other side of Guadalajara so we braved the bus system to save on taxi money and because we’re always up for an adventure. Our bus ride took nearly an hour each way and was always full of surprises! One day a blind man got on the bus and immediately started singing and playing his “chest” (some sort of drum under his shirt). The hospitality of the Mexican people is shown to us over and over, and this day was no exception. People who obviously needed every peso were giving him a few pesos and helping him as he walked though the crowded bus. I’ve also been offered a seat when there is standing room only, and people are very aware of leaving the “yellow” seats in front of the bus for the elderly or handicapped (not me!).
School has been interesting. Our first week it was just the two of us plus a young lady from Austria. This week we have a couple more students, one from Sweden and one from Florida. We spend two hours in the morning with the teacher, have a short break, then another two hours in the afternoon. It’s pretty intense in that the subject matter moves very quickly and because the teacher tries to only speak Spanish to us. After the first week I was feeling like I’d never understand it, but now it’s starting to make sense. The structure of creating sentences is so different in Spanish, but once you start getting the verb tenses and sentence structure it does become easier.
On our weekend off we took a couple of awesome day trips. Saturday we spent the day in the small town of Tequila which is about an hour outside Guadalajara. On the way we stopped in the fields where the agave azul (blue agave) plants are grown. It was a complete surprise to me to see how the “pineapples” are harvested by hand from the plants. It’s quite a process involving very sharp implements along with plenty of talent! Then we went to the Cuervo factory, learned all about making tequila, tasted the sweet cooked agave, and then of course the various final products. The aged tequila that is a sipping drink is actually very smooth and tasty. We came home with a couple of bottles of the good stuff to keep for sunset viewing!
Sunday we met up with a young philosophy student named Jesús, who took us on a culinary walking tour in historic Guadalajara. Along the way we stopped at six or seven different restaurants that were located in beautiful old buildings where we tasted typical Mexican foods like a torta ahogada (a drowned sandwich), pozole (hominy stew), agua de Jamaica (made from hibiscus flowers), and lots of other special treats! It was great fun and we were stuffed after nearly four hours of wandering and eating! I wish I could regale you with all the detailed explanations and history that Jesús shared with us, both about the food and the buildings. As he said, there is a legend on every corner! On Sundays it’s always like a festival downtown; the main streets are closed to cars and everyone is walking or riding bikes. The streets are packed with families out shopping, eating, or just enjoying the day. The biggest impression that we came away with was how deeply proud the Tapatíos are of their city and traditions (Tapatío is a colloquial term for someone from Guadalajara).
We’re now in Tlaquepaque, staying in a small apartment down the street from our school. It’s nice to be able to walk to everything we need and the town of Tlaquepaque is one of those colorful Mexican towns that you always wanted to visit; lots of friendly people, small shops, a large central plaza flanked by columned arcades and surrounded by restaurants and bars, beautiful cathedrals, and of course plenty of truly Mexican music and crafts. The name Tlaquepaque comes from Nahuatl and means “place above clay land”, and there are many well known artisits in town who work in pottery and blown glass. It’s also said that mariache music originated in Tlaquepaque, and you can hear music everywhere you go.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks, not to mention that our brains are full! We’re doing our best to retain what we’re learning and to keep practicing daily, but it takes some doing. Now we just have to keep practicing on new victims who have the bad luck to wish us a buena dia!