Guadalajara. Mexico’s second largest city. A five hour bus ride from Sayulita and after Ollie purchases bus tickets from a chicken shop we’re off and before you know it, into the first heavily populated area we’ve been in for quite some time. The bus takes us to an area called Zapopan, about 7k from the center, so after a cab ride through the busy streets we’re outside a huge church adorned with neon crosses on the spires in the Sunday evening market below. In the center of the square is a monument to the Blue Agave, which I will come to later. As we have only eaten some crisps in the past 12 hours, we search the street food offerings. “I want one of those”, I shout at Ollie like an excited toddler in a Disney store. Of course, I don’t know what they are, or have the ability to ask. Ollie negotiates and soon we’re enjoying hot tamales (corn meal, chicken and sauce wrapped in a corn husk) and they’re pretty damn awesome, especially eaten on the steps of church in a packed square in the center of Guadalajara. After we watch some older dapper gentlemen vie for the affections of glamorous dance partners-to-be in what I can only equate to an evening tea dance in another corner of the square, I get the feeling we’re going to enjoy our next few days here.
We stayed in Casa Vilasanta, a reasonably priced hostel about 10 mins south of the center off Juarez. Walking through the Monday rush hour we get to Guadalajara cathedral and all of the surrounding plazas, of which there are four. Fountains, modern art sculptures, catrinas and old buildings surround us as we wander past a food bank for the homeless. I am humbled when a man carrying everything he owns holds his plate out to me to offer up a one of his small free breakfast burritos. An incredible gesture which I am sure I will always remember. After scoffing a Mexican version of a cream horn on the steps of a church in the Plaza De Los Mariachis we people watch for a while before strolling on back to the hostel.
Chapultepec is an area where the night life is so we headed there. I lie, it was nothing to do with the nightlife. I was following a recommendation about a place we could get a torta ahogada; a chili-soaked pork sandwich. Finding the place closed we stumbled onto a craft beer bar called Grillo and proceeded to drink our dinner budget away. If you are planning on visiting Guadalajara and want to go out, go west on Lopez Cotilla until you get to Ave Chapultepec. Being unable to afford such a night out, we purchased a bottle of tequila and headed home for some cards and to continue Ollie’s tequila training for the big event.
The next day, we headed to Tlaquepaque, which is to the SE of where we were staying and a 9k bus ride. The area is pleasant enough, aimed at selling shit to tourists, but it has a calming feel to it, so a nice place for a stroll. Also where I finally got to have a torta ahogada. I’m not big on talking about food, but this is a great eat. A big pork roll, cut in half and drenched all over in chili sauce. By the time you’ve finished greedily scooping up chill sauce with the first half, the other has turned into a sponge and becomes almost impossible to eat without a spoon. We then tried some pulque, which is the fermented, un-distilled liquid from an agave. Giving it the big ones, I order it ‘natural’ while Ollie has it with pineapple. I was searching my memory trying to match the taste, when I realized it tasted like pickled gherkins. Ollie reminded me that I meant it tasted like vinegar. I won’t be drinking it again.
On to Lucha Libre (Mexican Wrestling) at the Arena Coliseo and we were feeling understandably nervous, despite the effects of the pulque. We were soon off the bus and into our seats five rows from ringside with 1L beers in our hands, listening to the crowd shout “bendejo”, “tu madre” and “puta” at each other…in a variety of combinations. Soon, darkness, loud music, flashing lights and scantily clad women meant showtime. Four fights. The first three were all tag teams, with wrestlers moving dramatically around the ring, whilst throwing themselves at each other theatrically. Some had masks and capes, others just leotards, but all were amusing. The crowd was busy whipping itself into frenzy after moving into groups and seemed to be picking on other smaller groups or individuals at random. This proved too much for the other 6 gringos sitting near us who left halfway through. After the final fight we were out into the street where the crowd was still chanting at each other, now face-to-face. What an experience it was. We both enjoyed it a lot more than we thought. If you don’t like wrestling, the scantily clad women will keep you entertained.
The next day was Tequila time. Jalisco is the state in which the ‘Magical town of Tequila’ is (magical officially since 2004 apparently) and is the only place Tequila can be officially called Tequila. Like champagne basically. If it’s not made there it’s called Mezcal. Tequila is made from Blue Agave, which is a cactus-like plant, and there are fields and fields of the stuff around Guadalajara. The area around Tequila is stunning. Rolling green hills make an impressive backdrop and add to the ‘magic’.
We booked a day trip of Tequila for M$300 each through ‘Tequila Tours’ and our first stop was an agave field where we met a real life Jimador (agave farmer) who showed us how sharp his tools were and explained his part in the process. Tequila has 41 distilleries around it, all knocking out delicious bottles every day, but we headed to Jose Cuervo…the first…the daddy, to see how they knocked out 50,000 litres of the stuff each day. You would be forgiven in thinking it was the town of Jose Cuervo really as they seem to dominate it. Nevertheless after a free margarita or two we toured the distillery and learned a surprising amount.
Tequila will only be 38% abv legally on the shop floor. The difference in price and quality range from how long it’s been aged or if it’s actually 100% pure agave. That Cuervo Gold shit we all drink after a few pints is not pure, which is why it makes you feel so awful in the morning. After a coupla’ freebies in the factory one of which was around 60% (a first pressing) we headed out into the bar area again where we were plied with more free margaritas. We then decided to drink some of the ‘Cuervo Family Reserve’ and watched the barman extract it directly from the barrel. He served us up two double doubles which we sipped for around 90 minutes like you would fine single malt scotch.
Guadalajara is an old city with a young and aspirational population. The universities there mean that the streets are filled with grungy teenagers all sipping beers or coffee in flat-peaked caps in the various bars and cafes. However you can find the old historic beauty all around including the Mariachis that just seem a part of life here. It is a charming place and somewhere Ollie said she could live. I certainly couldn’t because after a month I still don’t speak any bloody Spanish…