Times and Places: Guadalajara, Mexico is for lovers

Our first trip to Mexico was off to a rocky start January 2 when we arrived at Trudeau airport at 5am for our flight to Houston and then on to Guadalajara. As usual we hadn’t planned the trip — only the first and last stop. Irwin chose Guadalajara because it sounded “romantic and musical.” But we would have to wait 24 hours to get there.

We were immediately told that United/Air Canada was asking for volunteers, ostensibly because they had overbooked (although later we heard it was because they had to re-fuel and wouldn’t have time to make our connection in Houston). At any rate, we immediately accepted after unblocking our ears when told we would be paid $1200 each for the inconvenience.

We waited 1 ½ hours for ticket agent Guy to re-book us later in the afternoon at 3pm, and went home to sleep for five hours. We again called Atlas, our trusty taxi company, and lo and behold, the same driver appeared, getting out of the car with his hands raised, not comprehending seeing us again so soon. We all laughed as we recalled the sleepy ride to the airport at 4:30am and his wondering whether to call his office when he received the call to come back to the same address at 12:30pm for the same trip to the airport.

We were concerned about arriving in Guadalajara at 2am and having to take a cab to our hotel after learning in Atlanta that our flight was delayed two hours. So I consulted with an agent at the boarding gate and was assured it would be safe and cost about $20.

In fact, we arrived at 5am, the plane being four hours delayed. Happily, the agent was right. We took a pre-paid taxi ($19US) to our Hotel de Mendoza, right in the heart of the historical old town. We slept most of the day, rising at 1pm, and  looked out our window at the waterfall spilling into the large pool and thought about swimming….. another day.

We ventured out to a large square, Plaza de la Liberacion, adorned with a gigantic crèche scene and huge and colourful tinsel decorations. Many families were out for the day, it being Jan. 3 and still a vacation day for Mexicans. 

We discovered Café El Arte, recommended by the concierge at our lovely hotel, and decided after a coffee and sampling the cuisine that this would be our favourite resto in Guadalajara. After strolling the pedestrian mall of Pedro Morena and basking in the beautiful weather (70+F) on various strategically placed benches, and observing the happy families, we returned to our café and met a family of Mexicans from Monterey who recommended we visit Tequila, two hours away by bus to visit… well, you guessed it, the Tequila factories. Since it seemed like a “no way” kind of tour after we looked up the details in our Lonely Planet guide, we opted to reserve a one-day tour ($40 each) of Tlaquepaque and Tonala, small towns of artisans, on the day before our departure from this glorious place, Jan. 5.

On the recommendation of Canadians we met on the long delay in Atlanta, who winter in Ajijic, on Chapala lake one hour south, we booked a lovely looking hotel at a nearby town called Chapala for three nights.

We loved Guadalajara — the people are very friendly, it’s flat with lovely squares, beautiful urban trails but not crowded with tourists. It seems most have opted for the beaches, which we are avoiding because my knees don’t do sand well and we’ve heard they aren’t as safe as the cities along the mountain ridge that we decided to follow on our visit.

A word on the weather. It’s perfect if you enjoy cool mornings and evenings and sunny, warm days. A light jacket or sweater is a must, carried in your day bag for quick access. Of course, good walking shoes or sandals are important.

As for food, do not worry. There is more than rice and beans in the multifarious array of restos. A highlight for me was the shrimp on three skewers, with pineapple wedges adorning the platter. The breakfast omelettes are magical with fresh ingredients and salsas to your taste. Menus are in Spanish only but servers are quick to look up any ingredients on their cellphones.

Everything is as it should be —relaxing, accessible, friendly. The $3 margaritas we had last night at our hotel café (no sugar) were about three times the strength I’m used to, so tonight we’ll share one.

This morning we visited the largest market in Latin America, San Juan del Dios, about three or four streets from our hotel. I must congratulate Irwin on booking this amazing hotel right in the heart of the city, an easy walking distance to all sites. It’s both elegant and affordable at $100cdn a night.

By the way if anyone needs a baptism, communion, or wedding outfit, this is definitely your shopping paradise. The streets are full of these life-cycle shops and I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many wedding gowns in my life. Now if only we find the synagogue, we might get married. It certainly is romantic enough!

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