“ …of Guadalajara”
A Murderer, A Slaver — Ladies & Gentlemen,
A Whirlwind Tour of an Historic City
Bruce F. Barber
Stop… and see the sun emerge from clouds that drenched the land with water.
Look… at the cacophony of flowers blanketing the land.
Listen… as a distant rumble of thunder gives way to the sounds of…
Stop, look and listen: If you’ve studied this land as I have, you know the earliest sounds were those of the jaguar …followed by the sounds of the Olmecs, Toltecs and Aztecs …who gave way to the Spaniards …who relinquished their hold to the French …who succumbed to the Mexicans …whose brooms can be heard—preparing for another day—before the morning sun envelopes …Guadalajara.
It was 5:00 a.m. on a February morning when my wife and I emerged from a centuries-old hotel to discover this magnificent city. Our first encounter was with a woman whose broom was a paled palm leaf. While our second was a man exercise-walking to work, our third, at the end of a casual but interesting 20-block stroll, was with a teenage girl who served the breakfast we’d traveled 2,000 miles to enjoy.
Picture if you can, a city of 6,000,000 men, women and children whose daily lives are influenced by a history as dramatic is it can get. Whether we breakfasted on Birria, caroused in a cathedral, or fished in a friendly lake, that history is inescapable …in Guadalajara!
We read its brochures, argued with agents, and decided on a down-to-earth, respectably rustic, even romantic, train ride that would enable us to see a portion of Western Mexico dating to the second coming of Cortez. Whereas our route was based on The Turquoise Trail (see Scientific American, Feb ‘92), other points of interest included the cities of Culiacán, Tepic, Compostela and Cerro Pelón.
The problem with this historic route is that each of these spectacular places have their own stories to tell and there is seldom sufficient time to listen.
…..You may never have heard of Cerro Pelón but I’m guessing you will pay the price to read about its cubic miles of jet-black lava spread like butter o’er the surface of its gently rolling hills.
…,,You may never have read of Fortún Jimenez, Nuño de Guzman or family Orendain, but I believe you’ll continue reading to learn what each of them had to say.
Fortún Jimenez was the mutineer who discovered Pearl Island, a land he believed populated by women. Although he, too, was murdered—by the women’s angered men—several of his shipmates escaped to report their find on the mainland. Over the following three years—after Hernán Cortez arrived—Pearl Island became the place we know as Baja California.
Guzman is the man who, fleeing Cortez, founded Culiacán, Compostela and Tonalá (the site of a military garrison that was later to become Guadalajara). Leading an army of Spaniards, he cut a bloody swath across western Mexico burning villages, murdering local chiefs, and enslaving Indians. One recorded incident describes how he dragged a Tarascan king behind a horse… and burned him alive.
Family Orendain, in addition to producing some of the tastiest tequilas in Mexico, is the family that owned the land upon which Baja Norte’s largest agricultural production now sits. Their present holdings, surrounding the mainland pueblo of “Tequila”, are completely covered with the plants from which this fiery liquid is produced.
Now with hot and cold running water, our hotel was built in 1610. With an old-world grace that envelopes the moment you pass through its wood-lined entrance, the marble fountain, crystal chandelier and veranda-like views from above can take you to the days when French and Spanish ladies—and their gentlemen—filled this same lobby, its wide stairway, and the second, third and fourth floor hallways to their bedrooms.
Unlike others we’ve enjoyed—including several 5-star finds—the second happy hour of the day was enhanced by an octette of folklorico dancers and a group of those incomparable mariachis whose skills never cease to amaze. Our appearance at this particular hour—a second Happy Hour?—was one of those unplanned occasions when we were swept off our feet by the simplicity of a weekly routine.
Another routine was a restaurant we selected by chance. Like our hotel, it wasn’t a five star find but the food they served was as good as it gets… at a cost of pennies per pound.
Continuing our good fortune, our guide was a geezer whose first impression made us wish we hadn’t. Six hours later, however, six fun-filled hours in the hands of a salty old sir with more history, more jokes and more places to enjoy than most other Tour Guides, we wished the day without end.
For the price of 12 American dollars we had a hands-on experience in the Governor’s Palace, a 17th-century Cathedral, the Opera House, and a host of statues and memorabilia commemorating the 1542 founding of Guadalajara.
We saw the fountains commemorating each of Mexico’s seven martyred children.
We stopped by a coffee shop, a popsicle place, and Tlaquepaque (one of the region’s many glass and pottery centers).
On the way to Lake Chapala we saw a 17th-century hacienda, and a mission of equal vintage, before arriving in Ajijic (ah-hee HEEK) where we enjoyed another superb meal for more unheard of prices.
Later that afternoon, we strolled along a 10-meter-wide, brick-paved, store-lined, semi-crowded “paseo” on our way to dinner. Returning in time for that 9 p.m. Happy Hour, the paseo was empty but two tree-lined plazas we yapped on were filled with men and women enjoying …pantomime in the first and folkloric dancing in the second: Activities that delayed the surprise awaiting us at our hotel.
Friday nights, we learned, are a MUST in Guadalajara. Our host for this incomparable journey was a tour operator who retiredone year later. Our hotel was the Francés at 35 Calle Maestranza. Our restaurant, three charming blocks east of the hotel, was La Rinconada.
Our guide was a laugh a minute who,
over the sounds of uncounted taxi’s horns,
the whir of their engines and
the clippety clippety clop of 17th-century horse-drawn carriages,
made us stop, look and listen to the unforgettable sounds …of Guadalajara.