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Old 01-28-2008, 01:37 AM   #38
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Joined: Jun 2007
Location: Please don't call it 'Frisco
Oddometer: 522

Did I say that Puerto Vallarta was big? Guadalajara is staggering. Yes, I've been to Mexico City, but not long enough to appreciate it. I'm sure I will come up with some new superlatives when I get there.

Guadalajara is Mexico's second largest city. It takes a long time to get anywhere here. Partly this is because the city is big, and partly because of the (predictably) INSANE TRAFFIC. It's so bad that when I first rode into the centro to find lodging, I fled back towards a hotel I saw previously in a more easily navigated part of town. I continued on this route for about ten minutes before I stopped, kicked myself in the ass for being a pussy, and dove back into the centro with renewed determination.

[This is where I should insert a pic of the traffic, but I didn't take one - oops]

I came to Guadalajara seeking the KTM dealer. Like any good quest, I had was a cryptic direction obtained by sacrificing a virgin chicken on their website: "Av. Patria Pte No. 2128 int. A. Colonia Colomos Patria" WTF?!? The GPS refused to help me so I had to ask directions from two guys who kept going on about golondrinas. Eventually I figured out that the actual address is Patria #2128, but I still have no idea what the other words mean.

The next two days were a blur. I have been unable to piece them into a coherent narrative, so I'll just race through my impressions just as I experienced the city.

Guadalajara is WAY COOL.

* The KTM dealer is awesome. They knew the LC4 well and performed the service in one day with no advance notice for less than $100 (most of that was parts). They even washed the bike! Finding it is the hard part: Patria #2128, cross street Acueducto. It's on this block, just a short distance from the BMW dealership.

Yeay, pretty again!

* Guadalajara is as modern a city as anywhere in the world. In the United States there is a gross tendency to think of Mexico (especially when debates about immigration come up) as a third-world slum full of wannabe Americans, with isolated citidels of tourism where brown-skinned people survive by groveling for your American Dollars (in San Francisco, this is followed by ", you rich white multinational corporate oppressor!"). Yes, there is poverty in Mexico, but it's easy to overlook the homeless people in every city of the US. I also don't think that campesino life would seem all that strange to anyone who has driven through Appalachia or, for that matter, Montana. Guadalajara has technology parks and universities and skyscrapers and fancy hotels and malls and cineplexes and hip, urban young people and fancy cars and expressways and traffic and everything else you would find in, say, San Jose (California). It's just assembled with the traditional amount of Mexican chaos - road rules are more or less optional, trash pickup is erratic, and graffiti is disappointingly common.

* Taxis are *everywhere*. I never needed to wait, even outside the town centers. Cab rides are cheap and exciting.

* Guadalajara has a huge english-language bookstore, Sandi Bookstore. I finally acquired the Lonely Planet for all of Mexico. It was a terrible mistake leaving the US without this book (or the impossible-to-find Footprint guide, which is reported to be better). I also acquired a book of short stories with spanish on one page, english on the other, which I am slowly plodding through.

* The Hostel de María is a great place to stay. It was the first time I've ever stayed in a hostel, and something I wish to do more of. Cute place, friendly staff, close to the centro, cheap, and many fellow travelers with interesting stories. They have bunks (with lockers) for 160 pesos and private rooms for twice that. I was sorely tempted to stay several extra days.

* The tendency for the same kind of store to group together on the same block is taken to a radical extreme by Tapatíos (as Guadalajarans call themselves). There is the printing district, with dozens and dozens of typesetters. There were several blocks with nothing but stores selling toilet fixtures. Here is a whole plaza (and a couple blocks beyond) composed entirely of stores selling wedding apparel:

Of course, shoe stores are consuming the city like a tumor. I am concerned that Guadalajara may be approaching the Shoe Event Horizon.

It would be a fun project to map these districts out on Wikimapia.

* Guadalajara centro reminds me an awful lot of a dirtier version of Prague. There are plazas and cobblestone streets and 300-year-old buildings and fountains and statues and throngs of shoppers on foot - everywhere! I walked for hours and barely scratched the surface. How many 300-year-old churches does one city need??

This is the public library, sadly "closed for inventory" for the week:

* It's hard to get a good picture of Guadalajara. There are plenty of giant open plazas with fountains and beautiful buildings, but the plazas are full of tall trees. The only great place to take a picture way to get a good picture would be from a roof.

* The Palacio de Gobierno has some spectacular murals painted by José Clemente Orozco. This one is of Miguel Hidalgo looming down at you as you climb a set of stairs; it covers the ceiling and the walls so it's impossible to get perspective without a fisheye lens. I will try valiantly anyways:

* There is a huge population of Chinese immigrants in Guadalajara. Chinese food restaurants (especially of the all-you-can-eat buffet variety) nearly outnumbered taquerias in the centro.

* The Museo Regional de Guadalajara and Mercado Libertad warrant their own journal entries.
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