Ajijic, Chapala and Guadalajara, Mexico - Jan. 24 - Feb. 27/24         Deb’s photos are here.

In 1963 Elvis Presley sang "Guadalajara" in a movie.  It was in genuine mariachi style, with alternate tempo triplet rhythms weaving back and forth.  I’m not that keen on the gringo performing a Hollywood version of the song, but it is an interesting tune. The song is now sixty years old, and I have finally visited the city. But our first two weeks were with our friends Elizabeth and Bill in Ajijic, with visits to neighbouring Chapala, on the north shore of Lake Chapala, which is the largest lake in Mexico.

We booked our flight for 6 a.m. on the 24th.  We could have booked one later in the day, but we make it a rule not to arrive in a new place at night.  We thought we could nap the previous evening, but couldn’t settle.  Deborah was convinced that we should leave early enough to catch the last subway train instead of the Blue Rocket Express bus.  It put an hour or maybe two extra on our trip and added several flights of stairs and extra time waiting for the final leg, but we tried it.  Next time, back to the Blue Rocket, I hope.

Our flight was all United Airlines but there was an hour lay-over in Houston.  It should have gone smoothly, but our plane had to de-ice in Toronto for a half-hour, and somehow that delay translated into a full hour of late arrival in Houston.  The flight attendants begged the other passengers to stay seated for the 110 of us who needed to make tight connections to de-board first, but not all of them complied, and we were four rows from the back of our plane.  We hustled to our next gate, not far away, but arrived to learn that the plane to Guadalajara had just left.  

There followed a wild goose chase all over the airport to various gates and involving the SkyTrain to find out how we could get on a later flight.  The United agents weren’t much help - some were a little, some weren’t - but eventually we found out, through intermittent wifi from the United apps that Deb had downloaded to our phone, that they’d automatically rebooked us on a flight ninety minutes later.  No boarding pass, though.  The agent at that gate wouldn’t let us through, wanted to send us back to another customer service area via the SkyTrain to get those; luckily there was one closer gate where a nice guy helped us out with his computer by printing out the boarding passes we needed.  I guess the paper option is for those who struggle with technology or have phone or internet glitches.  It isn’t clear to me why the gate-keeper at the gate we were going to couldn’t pull off the same trick for us.  I think if the wifi goes down, from cyber attack or whatever, the airports will be completely locked up all across the world.

We boarded an Embraer 175.  My ticket put me in first class, seat 2A, while Deb’s was eight rows farther back.  I got an isolated seat completely to myself with a solicitous stewardess, so I didn’t have to chat with strangers, but there were no other perks.  My seat accommodated my frame better, while Deb sat with a children’s book author we’d already met in the terminal at the gate we were all supposed to have left from.  Deb had recognised her name when they introduced themselves.  So she had someone to chat with all the way to Guadalajara, and things worked out all around.  

The GDL airport had an old-fashioned people mover, the little bus that is common in airports where the climate permits it, and we cleared customs and got our checked bag without a hitch; it had been automatically switched to the same flight we were rebooked on.  We found our taxi stand, had a positive experience paying for our ride, gave our chit to the taxi we were assigned to, and ended up at Elizabeth’s front door an hour later.  

Elizabeth had a delicious soup on, and we met her husband Bill.  After chatting, we retired to our little studio separate from her apartment, and slept for fourteen hours.

On the 25th we joined E and B for oatmeal, which Bill likes to make every morning, and then Elizabeth led us on a hike around the town.  It isn’t a huge town but the streets are all cobblestone and between fatigue and altitude, I had a hard time keeping up.  Deb found the cobblestones dangerous for ankles - they are not smooth. One needs boots with good soles and ankle support.

We saw the Lake Chapala Society property, and learned its history.  A lady named Neill James fell into a volcano a century ago (?) and was badly hurt.  She was taken to Axixic, as it was spelled back then, to recover.  She bought an entire block of the town, which is how lots were sold at that time, and turned it into her own home and garden plus an art school for local children.  We may learn more later, but it appears that she single-handedly put Axixic on the map, and many of her friends and others began to visit.  Now the town is over-run with retired people from all over the U.S. and Canada.  They provide outsized support for the local economy, and have influenced local custom: one small example is that in this town, Mexicans walk their dogs on leashes and pick up after them.

E and B came here 22 years ago.  Bill, who is now 93 and still mentally astute, had an accident and damaged his shoulder, so he doesn’t get around easily.  He struggles with hearing loss but has a good hearing aid.  They spend four months here every winter.  E plays these days with a local Orquesta Tipica de Chapala. It seems an odd spelling, but that’s how you'll find them on YouTube. 

Deb and I both had the familiar little altitude adjustment headaches, and took an Advil apiece.  We split a steak platter at El Sombrero.  In the afternoon we explored the instruments Elizabeth has and I changed the two lowest strings on her baritone uke, which were wound in nickel and aluminum and had gotten a little rusty over time.  Her neighbour Sheila lent us a nice tenor uke for Deb.  Then Liz took us for another hike in a different direction, eastward down the main drag, and on the way back we had sopes and pozole for supper at a small restaurant near her house called a Cena Duria, which serves only a dinner menu; there are a few of them in town.  They always serve a little appetizer tray with taco chips, salsas and avocado, but each of those was too spicy to enjoy, even for me.  We ate a little too much.  We bought a kilo of ground dark coffee on the way home.

We returned to the house and had planned to explore some music with E but when we peered into their flat we saw that they still seemed to be engaged in dinner, so we decided to nap first.  It had been a hot day.  But we didn’t wake up until 10:30 pm and decided that would be too late to bother E and B so we went back to sleep.  I finally woke up at 5:45 am and made a pot of coffee, and got a start on my diary.

Jan 26th.  We had porridge with E and B and then brunch at Donas Donuts.  Most people imagine Donuts named after Dona, but in Ajijic there are so many English speaking retirees that they often put English and Spanish on the same sign, so in this case it actually means “Donuts Donuts”.  We had an omelette and eggs and bacon in a donut shop.  

Liz’ neighbour John wanted to drive to a large Walmart-like store in Chapala (Sorianos).  We got to fill the back seat, and had a tour.  Liz bought a ceramic potable water dispenser for our counter (“portagarrafon”, or “water crock”), and a toaster for the guests coming after us. We had tacos at the store lunch counter, cheap but very good.  At home, after a nap, we played a few of the tunes Liz is learning for the Orquesta Tipica.  She made us spaghetti for supper, and Deb made guacamole.  Then we played a few more tunes.  

I struggled to find the right instrument.  The little accordion she brought out only has twelve buttons and the keyboard wasn’t long enough for all the notes I needed.  I settled on the baritone uke, for which I’d changed the old bottom strings the day before.  It is tuned like the top four strings of a guitar, unlike Deb’s at home, so I stretched my brain to sightread the notes, but I got better and we began to sound pretty good, catching on to the flavour and timing of the tunes, which are quite typically Spanish and/or Mexican in style.  A new genre for me, which is fun.  Makes me wish I had my cuatro with me.  That would have sounded right at home.  The tenor guitar would also have worked well.

Jan 27th.  We breakfasted at Bok, a restaurant intriguingly named with the symbol of a Springbok’s head as its logo.  It is just around the corner from our temporary home, and turned out to be ideal for us: good food, great staff, clean and well decorated, and they took credit cards.  Many restaurants here don’t, which causes me a little concern that we’ll run through our cash reserves and then have to run the gauntlet of ATM’s that may not always work, and a limit to withdrawals with a fee attached each time.

We walked down to the Malecon, which is a walkway around the lake’s edge much like the one in Stanley Park.  On the way we looked at art in a house owned by one of the students of Neill James.  

When we arrived at the lake we gawked at parrots in a tree, six large condo nests of them.  My research says that they are Monk Parakeets, the only kind of parrot to build a large communal nest, and that this flock has somehow migrated from Argentina.  They are a “true parrot”, despite the name, apparently make great pets, and are quite sociable with humans even in the wild.  They are near a store that makes “telas” by hand, cotton woven decorative cloths, with the weaver running his loom outside on the sidewalk so you can watch the process.  Along the lake shore, each in his solitary appointed spot, are snowy egrets and Great Blue Herons.

In the afternoon we invited a neighbour over, Sheila, who’d lent us a ukulele.  We went through some tunes she’d printed from San Jose uke site, and then played the five Orquesta Tipica songs we’d begun to learn with Elizabeth.  They are beginning to sound pretty good.  We might sit in at the Orquesta rehearsal on Monday evening.

Today I’ve learned that there is a parade and a “rodeo” including bull-riding and some sort of “chase the calf” event, presumably for kids, perhaps not as much fun for the calf.  We’ll see.  The parade begins behind a church only a block over from where we’re staying, and lasts for only an eleven minute walk down the main drag to the Lienco Charro where the bull-riding happens.  There’s some sort of reception down on the Malecon.  We may attend that as well.  Deb will collect photos on her phone, which is much better than mine.

Jan 28th.  We waited for the parade down the main drag but they were on Mexican time so we walked to the location of the bull-riding and found ourselves inside a large bull-ring, where we were one of the first few people to arrive.  We secured seats at the very top level with back support and good shade, where Deborah said, “No-one will spill coke on us here”.  Although beer seemed to be the bigger danger, as it turned out.

It took forever, but finally the stands were full and the bulls were in their pens.  There were three: one little black bull, one medium sized black bull, and one large white bull.  Mounted riders had arrived from the modest little “parade” and they congregated at a gate on the far side; we expected them to have a role in the event, but they just stayed on their horses to spectate.

Boys and young men congregated in the centre of the ring and milled about.  In through doors at the bottom marched a column of “ladies” in Mexican long skirts, wigs and kerchiefs, many with balloon boobs in their blouses looking like Betty Boop.  The boys taunted them, and the chase was on.  Like a giant rugby match, the boys dashed through the crowd of ladies, most if not all of whom turned out to be men in drag.  The “ladies” tackled the young men one by one as they tried to zigzag through the group, and slathered their faces and hair with handfuls of flower.  There were crowd favourites who raised a roar in the stands and lots of derisive laughter when they were caught.

Finally that part of the entertainment was over.  One of the clown ladies climbed over the middle stall with the smallest bull and lowered himself onto its back.  Someone opened the gate and the little bull exploded out, trying to dump his rider, which he managed in about two seconds.  None of the other young men left the ring.  Instead, they taunted the bull, which chased them.  It was like the running of the bulls in Spain but in this case there were far more taunters than bulls; when the bull slowed down, someone would grab its tail and a second or a third rider would try his luck, but in short order the bull was exhausted.  A rider with a lariat roped him and they pulled him out of the ring.  The middle-sized bull was next and the process was repeated.  Finally a rider dressed more professionally, with a back support and a white shirt and cowboy hat came out of the final chute on the largest bull.  They’d had trouble getting that bull to stay on his feet - it might not have been his first rodeo, but he kept lying down in his stall.  It looked like he was giving up before the fight began.  They opened the gate and the rider held on for a decent number of seconds.  Then the tormentors had their turn as the bull tired.  At one point he dropped to the ground again, and they piled on top of him kicking him and brutalizing him to try to get more fight out of him, but it was clear that he was exhausted.  I wondered if his heart would give out right there in the ring.  Finally the charro roped him and mercifully removed him from the ring.

And that was that.  A very sad sort of celebration given the hundreds of spectators.  More bull-tormenting than bull-riding.  Bulls set upon by bullies.  We couldn’t really see the point.

Jan 29th.  In the morning we breakfasted at Emilia’s, which had great omelettes and good prices.  Then I struggled to get an old new E string onto a cheap fiddle that Liz had dragged out of her cupboard.  Bill had bought it for her years ago in a town where they make ukuleles.  She hadn’t been able to turn two of the pegs, so that was my first challenge.  I waxed them with some Hydersine paste that she had, but then they slipped so I got some talc from Deb to prevent the slipping.  The end result was a pretty ok sounding student violin, so we’ll do some of our fiddle tunes from home, in duet.

The baritone uke she lend me works well but those pegs also slip, and it remains unclear to me how to stop that.  I just keep constantly tuning between songs and sometimes in the middle of them.  

Deb brought a roast chicken home for supper.  It was horribly dry, which bothered her more than me.  After dinner we rode with Liz to the Orquesta Tipica rehearsal, where we met Javier and the other players, who trickled in over the ninety minutes that we were there until there were about sixteen.  Deb and I were quite aurally inconspicuous with our quiet little baritone and concert ukes in the mix of much louder instruments: fiddles, guitars, Mexican guitars and vihuelas, bass guitar, cello, salterios, marimbas and a harp. The marimbas are the central instrument, and Javier is teaching several young players.  It was great fun.  I couldn’t offer much to the mix with my quieter instrument, but I enjoyed playing and enjoyed the sound of the larger ensemble.  Javier has a generous nature and great energy - he keeps the group moving along.

After lemon grass tea with E and B at home, we went to bed quite late.  Tomorrow we’ll book a hotel for Feb 7th in Guadalajara.  I asked for recommendations on a FB page in the Friendly Gringos Ajijic group and we decided on the Hotel Frances, a block from the cathedral and in the thick of museums and other attractions, and close to a metro station.

Jan 30th.  We had porridge and then a breakfast burrito at Bok which took too long to arrive, then we recorded a birthday song for E’s son - she’ll send it to him today.

I have plenty to read: in addition to using my tablet quite a lot for online reading and news, I have a digital book that Laurence gave me called “Breaking out of Beginner Spanish” which is really well written and useful.  I find that my Spanish has improved in the past year.  I catch more of every conversation and can construct useful sentences, ask a waitress for a spoon and describe my instrument collection back home to the Orquesta leader Javier, for example.  And sometimes provide useful vocabulary to E or Deb.  

In the middle of booking Hotel Frances, I decided to switch gears and book a nice looking Airbnb instead.  It was half the price and looked really clean.  We bought a kilo of ground coffee from a street vendor when we arrived - Liz has a coffee maker in the studio - and this bnb has a coffee maker in the photos as well.  It has a Queen bed, a kitchenette with fridge, and a nice large bathroom as well as a garden and other sitting area.

Liz’ other tenant John rents out an apartment connected to theirs and has a car that occupies their single parking space.  He invited us to go for ribs for supper, so we all squeezed into his car and headed out to Smokehouse Ribs.  It was a good sized platter with large and meaty pork ribs.  The hors 'd'oeuvre was a pail of peanuts.  We were told to toss the shells on the floor, and chuckled about the fact that Deborah could not bring herself to do that.  Back at home, John shared some peanut butter chocolate cake that he bought down on the malecon from two kids, twelve and thirteen, who sell the goods that their mother bakes at home.  He regularly buys cakes and pies from them.

We were too tired to play, but Liz borrowed a full book of the Orquesta tunes from a friend, and we’ll look at them tomorrow.  I’ll play the fiddle that I restored but I’m not sure that I can sight read violin II parts on unfamiliar tunes.  I might try anyway, but I’ll have the baritone uke handy to rescue me tomorrow evening.  I’m not confident that my pegs will hold, anyway.  The baritone uke is also a challenge because this one is tuned like the top four strings of a guitar instead of a uke, and I haven’t been playing a guitar for a few years, now that I have a tenor guitar, my 5 string and the latest, my PR cuatro.  That’s six different tunings I’m dealing with, and the one for this baritone uke is the least familiar under my fingers.  Sometimes I have to resort to playing just the chords or improvised harmonies instead of the written notes.

Jan 31st.  John wants to serve us lunch consisting of peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwiches made with french toast, and fruit salad.  It sounds like a disaster for a diabetic, so we’ll sneak down to Emilia’s for an omelette first, and try to beg off eating too much of that lunch.  The maid will make her weekly visit so we’ll vacate our studio while she sweeps and washes.  In the evening we’ll go to our second rehearsal in Chapala.  It costs 300 pesos, about $23.50 for Liz’s prefered private driver to take us there and back; he waits, or perhaps returns to pick us up.  She doesn’t seem to use Uber, which would cost about $200 for the trip there and back but she has loyalty to her driver, who is dependable and safe, she says.  Sometimes she gives him a tip as well.

John changed his mind and took us to Tango restaurant for lunch in deference to my diabetes. In the evening Deb made chicken soup with the dry chicken we had left over plus a bag of veggies she’d picked up at the market.  It was Deb’s and my turn to pay for the trip to Chapala to the orquesta, and Uber seemed uncertain to be available so we booked her driver Martin.  Costs 50% more, but Uber says you can’t reserve their cars in this area, weirdly.

In the evening we went to Orchesta Tipica again.  It’s like a jam for Mexican music, with Javier as the driving element and leader; periodically he gets a gig and those who know the tunes well enough are invited to join him. We met his youngest daughter Alexandrina, who may end up in Napanee on a volunteer project with animals this spring.

On January 6th, the Day of Epiphany a.k.a. Three Kings Day, there is a celebration with a special bread known as Rosca de Reyes, Three Kings Bread.  The baker puts a tiny doll in the batter meant to represent the baby Jesus, and the person who gets the doll in his piece is considered a godparent to the child and must pay for tamales for everyone who’d shared the bread on Candelmas, which is Feb 2nd.  Javier had the good or bad luck to get the doll in his piece three weeks ago and last night he set up a table with tamales for everyone after the rehearsal.  We couldn’t stay because we’d paid Martin to take us home and he was waiting outside for us.

Feb 1st.  I always wake in the pre-dawn and hear the first birds and morning doves.  After porridge and a burrito charro, we napped.  My naps are not random; after our late breakfast the time is already eleven and I’ve been awake for five hours, so that’s a good stretch before a nap.  The temperature was 23 degrees all day, and sunny.

We caught the local bus to Chapala for ten pesos each.  We got off with the crowd at a main square with a bandshell.  We soaked in the foliage and many flowers (there’s one called an African tulip tree), enjoyed pigeons and myna birds in an enormous spreading rubber tree, gawked at public wall art and then strolled down to the malecon.  There were statues, a perfectly manicured children’s play area, musicians - the ones actually playing at the time had a bandoneon, snare drum and tuba.  Deb took photos of statues, fishing boats and a flock of pelicans.  We missed a photo of a bright mosaic sign because people were sitting on a bench in front of it and we forgot about it on the return walk.  There were a couple of piers for people to walk out on, and ponies ready for kids to ride.  We returned between a strip of market stalls because they had awnings up for shade, and some interesting products for sale.  The vendors were not pushy.  We had perfect timing to catch the bus to Ajijic, and we stopped at a sushi restaurant around the corner from our house to take home dinner for us and for E and B.

In the evening after peach yoghurt we taught songs to Liz to sing for Bill.  We performed them for him, to his absolute delight: Big Bad Bill is Sweet William Now, and Bill’s Got it Back by Connie Kaldor.  Then we recorded them on his smart phone so that he can email them to friends who’ll be amused.  We introduced Liz to a number of other uke songs that Deb loves.

Feb 2nd.  Today we’re planning to play for a Skype call to wish one of E’s ukulele group friends happy birthday, and play along to a few of their choices.  Allen will be in that group.  Then we’ll log onto an afternoon of workshops for musicians called LARK that Liz knows about.

That all went well, although LARK workshops are difficult timing-wise and with glitchy internet; and the pdf’s wouldn’t load on my tablet.

We went to Lobo de Mar and learned a tough lesson: we’re conserving cash because ATM’s charge a fee and often don’t have cash in them or don’t work.  The first time at Lobo, we asked and were allowed to pay with credit card, and that’s why we went back.  This time they waited to the end of the meal, which didn’t include all that the waiter had described to us, to tell us they are only accepting cash today.  To add insult to this capriciousness, the waiter returned Deborah’s change short 50 pesos - he’d deducted his own tip without asking.  Deborah was furious, and gave him and the restaurant owner a piece of her mind.  She demanded the 50 pesos be returned, and she didn’t leave a tip.  She always leaves a tip when using her credit card.  

Feb 3rd.  At Bok this morning (one of our two best restaurant choices) they were surprised when we asked if the credit card machine works every day.  It does.  Lobo de Mar were trying to scam us, it seems.  

Right now I’m researching what geared tuners to get to replace the old friction fit pegs on the baritone uke, so it’ll stay in tune while being played.  Deb and Elizabeth are shopping and prepping veggies and potato salad to have chicken dinner this evening at John’s, next door.  I’ll try to find a good workshop or two on the LARK schedule, which runs all weekend.

Feb 4th.  Dinner next door at John’s was delicious.  He has an air fryer that he cooked the chicken in.  Afterward we played a few tunes and then turned in.

This morning after breakfast we watched the “crazy ladies” and the caballeros in a parade to celebrate Constitution Day.  One horse slipped and fell on the cobblestones while trying to back up.  The rider was thrown but unhurt, but the horse was limping so the rider walked it back out of the parade.  Deb got photos of the crazy ladies dancing and throwing flour and confetti, and of the horses and riders.  Liz tells me that this tradition of men (and women and children nowadays - used to be only men) dressed up as crazy ladies dates back to a historical person who was a particularly wild woman, who used to come into town and chase the young men around.

We were at the main square of town by then and let the parade continue without us, while we walked through a park containing flowers and a bandshell, and looked at some paintings inside a cultural centre.  There’s a nice shady block of souvenir stalls and restaurants nearby.  

We shopped for supper and walked home to have a nap and then play through my youtube playlist of waltzes and airs with Liz.  Tomorrow we’ll be at our Orquesta Tipica latin jam for our third and last time.

Feb 5th.  Deb and I left early and took the bus to Chapala.  We had a chimichanga and a “wet” burrito for supper at El Patio, and we listened to the open mic for an hour.  it is very much a “gringo bar”.  The only hispanics were wait staff.  The meal was really delicious and cheaper than other restaurants nearby.  The music was pretty good.  The gringos seem to have a lock on this place, running a uke session on Wednesday afternoon and other events.  It has a stage and there’s equipment including a keyboard, which I’d have volunteered to play but there was already another guy named Steve playing it.  I plucked along on my baritone uke instead.  

Eventually I’d had enough and we went for a walk.  We walked through humble parts of town, which means anywhere a block off the main street, and found out way to the rehearsal hall, where we found that things had been moved around and the piano was accessible, so I played it.  It was flat along its entire length, but they couldn’t hear me much anyway - it’s a loud group.  If I were staying in town I’d volunteer to pay to have it tuned.  Alejandrina played marimba along with her mother and two young guys, one of home might have been her brother.  

We talked with Alejandrina and reassured ourselves that she is going to a place in Napanee with good references, if she gets accepted - the Sandy Pine Animal Welfare Centre.  They only accept four volunteers per summer, and the volunteers get bed but no board; she has to pay for her own groceries.  Seems a bit exploitive, but her biology teacher recommended it.  Perhaps it is like the practice of companies who take on unpaid interns.

After the rehearsal I tried to call up an Uber.  I could see one on the app only seven minutes away, but it wouldn’t come.  Orquesta members assured us that it never would - the app “doesn’t work” out here in a small town especially after dark.  We’ll see whether it works on Wednesday for our trip to Guadalajara.  If not, we’ve collected the names and quotes for the trip from several private drivers and taxis as a fall-back.  Their prices range from 75% higher to double the price quoted by Uber, but we’ll see what transpires when the time comes.  We were assured that not even a taxi would take us home at nine in the evening because drivers were afraid of anyone they don’t know (one work-around is to go to the central bus station, where they congregate and can get a good look at you, and where they’ll assume you’re a legit traveller who just got off the bus.  Good general tip.)  Luckily a lady named Paz who attends the rehearsal more as a fan than a musician lives in Ajijic and Javier asked her on our behalf if she’d drop us at home - she said she lives just beyond our street.  

Feb 6th.  After porridge we took the bus to Huerto Cafe, in a small community between Ajijic and Chapala.  They pride themselves on being and “urban agriculture deli” where they grow fresh ingredients on site.  I had a delicious omelette with very fresh greens and sweet peppers.  We got to sit six feet from an “acoustic” duo, mandolin and hollow-body jazz epiphone guitar.  They were mic’d but very quiet and were exceptionally tight.  Their music was intricate and full of nuance and dynamics, some of it very jazzy, and the selections were mostly quite out of the ordinary.  The mandolinist Jan is from Orangeville, but lives here permanently now.  

When I got home I worked with E’s mandolin again, inspired…but still have little luck with fingers on small frets and getting a clear, loud sound.  Might be just this mandolin.  I switched back to the baritone uke.  It has a better, louder, clearer and more resonant sound.

John brought home-made margaritas over to E&B’s as an aperitif and then we drove over to SmokeHouse Ribs again.

Feb 7th. We packed before porridge, then went to Bok for breakfast while E’s maid Leticia cleaned the studio apartment, so that E could show it to a prospective 6 month tenant.  Then we said our goodbyes and brought up the Uber app.  One car was showing a little north of us but didn’t respond.  I bumped our request to “priority” for an extra $20 pesos ($1.58 CAD) and a car appeared out of the east.  He took us all the way to our GDL address for $421 and we gave him a $50 peso tip which is above normal.  He was a friendly, talkative guy.  So we spent about $37 for the 76 min ride rather than the $60 it would have cost in a taxi or with a private driver.  We could track the ride and paid with our pre registered credit card, no cash changed hands (except for the tip).

The room is clean and new, about half the size of E’s studio apartment, and it is well stocked with kitchen and bathroom gear, towels, etc - just like a hotel room but for half the cost.  Excellent security, and we are surrounded by church bells that ring the quarter-hours and the hours all day and night, so you always know what time it is, even in your slumber.

We napped and then walked the Avenida Fray Antonio Alcalde, named after a famous friar who established a free public hospital.  This avenue was drab and there were few places to eat that would take a credit card.  Drinking water is expensive, but not terrible: we bought 1.5L at a drugstore for 63 cents.  At E’s, we paid $20 pesos for each 20L replacement garrafon.  Here they want $8 CAD for an empty plastic garrafon, and it isn’t a deposit - we won’t get it back.  But you can refill it for $20 pesos.

We finally chose a place to eat and had Tortas al Pastor, but they weren’t very good and weren’t cheap.  I hope we find better comida tomorrow.  There will be other directions to explore, and we can ride the tourist bus and/or visit a museum or a botanical garden.  There’s a tourist information centre about six long blocks away, so perhaps that’ll be our first destination after breakfast.

Feb 8th.  We had a good breakfast at Marych coffee shop around the corner (great chorizo omelette) and strolled up the Avenida Alcalde to the carousel, took photos of buildings we liked, and of horse drawn carriages and electric carriages with steering wheels that first made their appearance in N. America here, perhaps.  They looked exactly like the horse drawn ones but the horse was missing.  

We stepped inside the Palacio Municipal and studied good murals, and then found our way to the Tourist Office.  There a lovely lady named Male gave us maps and information about many free museums within a short walk of her office.  Then a friend of hers came in, Darshan Patel from India who has been in Mexico for eight years.  He is an informal ambassador of friendliness and we had a lively chat with both of them.  She gave Deb a card that is used on the transit system, and he took a photo of the four of us and posted it to Google.  He gave us adhesive map stickers of India and Mexico and a few of Canada for us to give away, and he was delighted with the Canada flag pin that Deborah presented to him, as was Male.

We passed the museum of household furnishings of a former President Portillo, and gawked at his collection and his carved wooden dressers and other features.  Deb got to use the washroom, which was her first motivation for going inside. Then we hiked home for a nap.  We walked a few kilometres today.

We went out again for supper at a chinese food all-you-can-eat buffet called Wong Wong.  Only $10 each, but Deborah pronounced that two Wongs don’t make it right, and only a few of the items satisfied her.  Still, it was a healthy dose of protein and included fruit and jello for dessert.  But it was very salty and I had to drink a lot of water once I got home.

We charged up her transit card at a subway station round the corner from our room, and brought home a 5L bottle of drinking water for 20 pesos.  There’s a 5 cup coffee maker in our room just like the 12 cup one we had at E’s, so I’m still able to make coffee for myself in the morning when I get up, while Deborah continues to sleep for an hour or two.  To forestall Deborah’s anxiety, we booked a second and final place nearby for our final thirteen days before our flight.  It is a very picturesque three star hotel called Las Sabilas.  You can google it, and you should - you’ll see lots of good reviews and photos.

Fun Fact: Tapatío is a Mexican Spanish colloquial term for someone from Guadalajara. It is also used as an adjective for anything associated with Guadalajara. When I first heard it I pictured a dancing uncle. Because tio means uncle in Spanish.

Feb 9th.  This morning we went to Restaurant Lydia, which is on a back street and is famous in these parts for locals.  It is always busy.  The dining rooms are spacious, with high ceilings.  The very traditional menu had vocabulary we didn’t know, and it doesn’t have any bilingual staff.  It does have little parrots in cages near the washrooms.  I had a decent omelette that came with salad (that’s an optional breakfast side here) and what I tend to call “bean poo”, and four hot flour tortillas.  There was decent hot salsa.  Deborah had quesadillas but wasn’t excited, but she did get to order aguacate (avocado) and they brought two halves of perfectly ripened avocado. She ate the larger one and gave the other to me - at home in Toronto, we always split an avocado for breakfast.  We had large coffees, very good, and little cones of dark, hard sugar, like miniatures of the way sugar was purchased over a hundred years ago. They brought a basket of “pan dulce” before everything - six cookies with icing, basically, in different styles.  We hadn’t asked for them and had to ask questions.  Turns out, as often happens when we travel, if you eat any you’ll pay 9 pesos each, about 75 cents.  Being diabetic, I avoided them.  My Libre sensor packed it in prematurely two days ago and I only have one 14 day sensor left for the remaining 19 days, so I have to fly by the seat of my pants for a few days and be cautious about what I eat.

We walked to the Museo de Artes Popular which I had read good press about.  It had some good ceramics, which Jalisco is famous for, and some tradional dress, among other things, but it only filled an hour of our time.  Nearby, the Museo Regional de Guadalajara had an open door and no-one at the ticket booth.  It’s one of the few in the city that charge for entry, in this case $90 pesos which is quite a lot ($7.50 CAD) for what you get to see.  It is free on Sunday but only for Mexican nationals.  The security guard at the door waved us through for free since there was no-one at their post to take our money.  We didn’t need to be invited in twice!  We stayed for a couple of hours looking at a paleontology exhibit which included a famous complete skeleton of a wooly mammoth, and a few galleries of art work, some underwhelming contemporary works and some huge religious canvases of the life of St. Francis of Asissi.  Other than that I’d rate the Regional museum as quite regional in scope and ambition.  Probably not worth the regular ticket price.

On the walk home we were seduced by some London Pastes.  Here the word pastes, from the English word pasties, has replaced empanadas.  I have a short memory, it seems: the last time I ate empanadas, a year ago, I described them as Mexico’s answer to a hamburger, but they’re inferior because you can’t see how much filling you’re getting, whereas with a burger you can actually see the meat.  These were almost entirely fried dough with very little filling inside.  I don’t understand how they can sell them to the same people day after day…sooner or later it would seem to become obvious to the customers what terrible quality they are.  Fool me once…we should have gone back to Lydia’s for supper.  Or the Chinese food buffet, where one can at least pick broccoli and corn and a few meat items with no breading on them, and have fruit for dessert.  Or another restaurant along the back street - I saw some that serve pozole, which is usually packed with chicken and veggies.  For dessert we’ve taken to keeping peach yoghurt in the frig, with bits of peach in it.  Quite good.

In the evening we stepped out for tea at a restaurant nearby and listened to jazz by three girls with a guest male guitarist. There was rhythm and lead guitar, a good drummer, and a sax player who also played jazz leads on her mandolin, which I enjoyed hearing.  It had a pick-up, but overall they were not too loud, and we sat near the stage.

Feb 10th. Deb wants to get to the Telcel office to have them explain to her why her Telcel app doesn’t show what she’s actually got on her phone.  We each have 3 gigs for the month which we’ll never use up, mind you.  We occasionally turn on our data to update google maps or order an uber, but that’s about it.

But today we headed in the opposite direction, to the zoo.  We ate both meals at Marych because it was open and was close by, and because the meals are dependably good there.  We ubered to the zoo and back, but while there we hiked an enormous campus of animal enclosures.  There were lots of things we weren’t allowed to see because we didn’t want to pay extra, but there was enough to enjoy with our basic ticket.  

In fact, we only paid child fare to get in.  That’s allowed to seniors but only Mexican nationals according to their website, but Deb marched confidently to the ticket booth with her passport photocopies and ordered up her senior’s rates in perfect Spanish, and they didn’t bat an eye. 

Anything more than the basic attractions, on top of all that walking, and we’d have returned home even more exhausted than we did.  My knees began to complain on every downhill.  Even though I play tennis all summer, my knees had to remind me that they, too, are 71 years old.  The zoo extends downward into a ravine, like a roller coaster, and once you reach the end it is mostly uphill all the way back to the entrance, which was a tiring final crawl.

At first I worried that there wasn’t much for us to see at that zoo, but the aviaries were great fun, with kids feeding Rainbow parrots from Australia on one side, and budgies and cockatiels on the other.  There were some cool animals like Liebres, which are giant hares (by translation) from Patagonia.  And we got to watch a show of parrots, macaws (“guacamayas”) and a very handsome young turkey vulture in the pavilion.  There was one bird called a Chachalaka, which reminded us of Deb’s homemade Chacalaka salsa.

Back at Marych I had Bifstek Sirloin con Chilaquiles, while Deb had the breakfast special that she’d envied since I’d ordered it the same morning.  This morning she ate the splendid chorizo omelette that she’d envied since I ordered it for breakfast two days ago.

Four restaurant meals, two taxi rides, and entry for two to the zoo, all for about $74 CAD.  That’s good value for money, and we’re a long way from breaking the bank.

Deb has suffered from an intermittent allergy for the past 24 hours, a mysterious affliction with no discernible cause.  It doesn’t advance to an outright cold, and seems to come and go.  I have no symptoms of cold or allergy.  So we are nonplussed.  Possibly the air conditioner in our room?

Feb 11th. Sunday morning, and the cafes we’d considered for breakfast are closed, but Lidia’s is open.  There must have been 200 people inside, maybe twenty staff. We arrived during a lull at the entrance but when we left the line of people waiting was down the entry tramp and out the door - almost all local Tapatios, some of whom left with green 8L buckets with what might have been beef broth inside.

We decided to try something we had no idea about, bowls of Menudo con carnaza.  It turned out to be a bowl of beef broth with tripe and jellied beef, and possibly brain, into which you sprinkle diced onion, squeeze a lime, and add some slender hot dried peppers if you dare.  I bit into a dried pepper, which created powder that caught me in the back of the throat and warned me to be cautious.  Sounds like something you wouldn’t order twice, but it was very good.  It is served with wheat flour tacos.  We ordered two extra tacos and some jam for dessert, and made ourselves roll-ups like French crepes.

Tlaquepaque is sure fun to say.  We went down five levels into the Sanctuario metro station three doors from our digs to catch the train to the Tlaquepaque Centro station, thinking we’d catch the bus from there to avoid a 20 minute hike (since we knew we’d be strolling the main drag Independencia while we were there).  The buses were blocked from going in on Sunday so we called up an Uber.  We did the same thing in reverse on the way home.

Calle Independencia is pedestrian only for the part that tourists want to see.  There are some very high end craft stores, and some galleries that beat the art museums - in particular, that of Sergio Bustamante, who has his own unique and highly recognizable style.  There was another artist with playful fat characters.  The street was filled with bronze sculptures.  Deb has photos.  We walked down to the bottom and back up, and stopped in the Tourist Centre to have a chatty little conversation with a guy who recommended one of three places to order Torta Ahogada on the strip.  

His choice was a little hole in the wall but we trust that it was the best.  The price was like having a burger.  The dish is basically a “drowned sandwich”, iconic to Guadalajara.  There’s your choice of meat inside and you can load up onions and hot salsa on it.  It comes drenched in a tomato based soup but only the inside of the bun gets soaked; the crust remains crunchy.  It was, as many Mexican dishes are, messy to eat, but now we can say that we’ve had one.

When we came up from the bowels of the city at El Sanctuario metro station, there was a stage set up with a dance school performing routines, from youngest to oldest, in traditional dress and then other ballet styles, modern jazz and belly dancing thrown in.  The boys were dressed as young caballeros in sombreros, and enjoyed banging their hard boot heels on the stage.   

After the dancers, we wandered home and we could hear various singers taking the stage.  I had a nap, and when I woke up and took out my earplugs I heard a full mariachi orchestra, so I went downstairs.  Deb didn’t come because her cold is a little worse (I’m unscathed, so far).  I only got to hear the last song before they quit, but they were darn good.  Twelve musicians I think - four fiddlers, three guitars (one was a traditional Mexican acoustic bass) and five brass in various sizes.  They all sang, and they were dressed to the nines in traditional mariachi dress.  The brass tradition arrived with the Germans, I’m told.

I think we’ll hear more of them.  They’re setting up a bandstand for a celebration in front of Guadalajara Cathedral, about six blocks from here, on Feb 14th, which is the day we move to Las Sabilas hotel.  That’s even closer to the cathedral than here, so I’m sure we’ll get there.  Mexicans have more festival days than we do, and Valentine's Day is one that deserves big event fever (they’re so romantic! And friendly, and helpful).  Our Avenida will be awash with flowers, balloons, flags and bunting pouring out from every direction.

Feb 12th. Today was a bit low-key.  Our intended breakfast restaurant doesn’t open ‘til 2, so we went back to dependable old Marych.  Then we walked up to Hidalgo Park and the hospital founded by Fray Antonio Alcalde in 1792, the first public hospital to serve everyone, indigenous and non. There was a small museum in the medical school that had some interesting items, and a lady who toured us through it.  I was drenched in Spanish, but like the drops in a shower, many of the words missed me and simply splashed onto the floor.  But it’s all spaghetti thrown at the wall, to mix my metaphors, and some of it sticks.  I did, in fact, understand most, until my brain got fatigued.

This was north of our current home; until today we’d been walking south each day, toward the cathedral.  We continued north and checked out many restaurants - we’re eating our way through the neighbourhood, at the rate of twice a day.  We walked to the Aquarium (Acuario) but decided that it was too much of a tourist trap and too a la carte for our liking.  I’m used to “pay one price, see everything inside”.  We’ve had the same reaction at the zoo, although the basic ticket did give us enough to feel satisfied with the time we spent there.  There’s a charrieria - Mexicans love their horses, especially in Jalisco - but they want an all-one-price that obliges you to ride a horse and go to roping school.  Neither is likely to be something for people our age.  And we’ve seen horses.  

We walked around the circumference of the Parque Alcalde and stepped inside to survey the grounds and the little lake pond.  Then we walked down to the Mariscos Hilda restaurant and had tacos dorados, i.e. crispy fried, with rice, salad and sweet cole slaw.  I had three marlin, Deb had three shrimp (camarones) and we swapped one each.  They were delicious.  It was a “top rated” restaurant on the google map, and we agreed.

Feb 13th.  I downloaded an app to my phone called GPSmyCity, which lists historical walks and other things you might want to do in a new city.  It has a navigation feature (we use google maps, normally), with lists of things clustered together, an audio feature, and guided walks with info on the sites you’ll visit. I learned about the Neighbourhood of the Nine Corners (Barrio de Nueve Esquinas), not far away, where we’ll go to eat birria.  It has a nice fountain and pretty homes.

This morning, however, after a five dollar omelette at Mi Cocina, we enjoyed free-every-Tuesday entry to the Museo de Cabana, aka Hospicio Cabana, which was once a spacious hospice for orphans.  It is an incredible building with 23 separate courtyards surrounded by rooms.  There were exhibits of painting and photography, and an exhibit celebrating the mosaic tradition of Italy.  It was a 24 minute hike to get there.  

We stopped at the Telcel office and Deb learned that their app doesn't work, on her phone or on mine. We have to use the website. We went into the Mercado Libertad, the San Juan de Dios market, which was simply endless and included a large collection of fancy saddles and leather goods.  We looked for another iconic traditional food, birria, but the birrierias were closing; there was only one remaining stall to serve us, and it had only beef (“rez”), no goat (“chivo”) left.   We were hungry so we went for it but the portion wasn’t as huge as we’d expected, and it is a messy dish, like so many we’ve had in Guadalajara.  

With some difficulty, we located one music store for me to window shop at, but forgot to find Mariachi Square.  We’ll try that tomorrow, along with enjoying the performers that will present on all the stages they’ve set up at the very centre of town on plazas stretching down from the Cathedral.  In the evening we’ll see the Coro del Estado de Jalisco, the state choir, performing Cole Porter and George Gershwin.  The concert is titled “Clap Yo’ Hands”, but the first poster that appeared online had a typo and it said “Crap Yo’ Hands”.  They quickly cleaned that up, so to speak, before I could download it for the sake of a chuckle.

Feb 14th.  Today we moved to Las Sabilas.  It seems a stretch to call it a three star hotel, but it is a good change. The last place was ultramodern, just over 200 square feet with very high ceilings, a kitchenette and ensuite bathroom, and up two flights of stairs, about thirty steps, to our room, with a rooftop lounge area.  This one was built in the 1700’s, the manager believes.  Today is the 482nd anniversary of Guadalajara, which explains the several stages set up in a sequence of public squares from the Cathedral southward to the Hospicio this weekend, and the age of buildings like this old hotel.

Our room is smaller.  It has very traditional tiles throughout, and also high ceilings with wood beams.  I think that Mexicans beat the heat by letting hot air rise.  No TV or AC, but a fan above the bed and good wifi for watching shows on our tablet in the evenings.  There’s a gas fireplace which we won’t use.  We have a shared kitchen and lounging area, a fountain outside our curiously arched doorway and another one down the passageway, also a small swimming pool for a dip on hot days (not today).  It was gloomy walking to our room, one of eight, and I worried about our choice; but now settled in our room we feel better and I have realized that part of the gloom came from an overcast day (it rained last night) and the ivy and flowering plants on either side.  In the sun, the flowers will be very nice.  I believe we’ll have three days of cloud and occasional rain, now.

We’ll enjoy having fellow travellers to chat with; we never encountered any of them in our last place.  The manager, David, is from San Francisco, where he sometimes returns to do substitute teaching, but he’s been here most of the time for the past seven years.  He is friendly, helpful and talkative.

Dinner was in Mercado Alcalde.  We tried some kind of thing that was the size and shape of a cutlet and the cook said it was shrimp, but it was more like a patty of Ethiopian injera bread in a spicy tomato sauce.  We had some cold lentils and some rice with that. Once again, Deb was disappointed with our supper choice, but I bought a pan dulce to take home and I made a coffee to wash it down.  Tasted like a coffee cake.

The Coro de Jalisco concert was very good.  A choir made up of a dozen soloists who took turns at lead, a very good conductor and half-decent pianist.  Thirty or so singers.  The venue wasn’t very good - tall ceiling, bare walls, echo…but I tried to ignore that and enjoy the harmonies and familiar melodies.  Afterward we walked a westerner that we picked up along the way down to the Cathedral where there’s a GDLuz celebration.  But it started to rain and the orchestra that had been on the stage packed up their paper charts and hit the road.  Perhaps they’ll be there tomorrow.

Feb 15th.  Our new digs are close to Lidia’s but the line-up was well out the door by the time we arrived for breakfast, so it was back to Marych.  In the afternoon we ubered to the Museo de Artes at the Universidad, where we enjoyed an eclectic mix of galleries including some devoted to the architecture of the homes of Mexico’s favourite artists, some digital art, the art of 48 Ukrainian artists still at work through the war there, etc.

We walked twenty minutes or more after that to Las 9 Esquinas, the Nine Corners, where we found the best recommended birrieria.  We split a goat birria, and they loaded the table with frijoles and pickles and salsas.  It was delicious, much better than the beef one we’d had in the Mercado Libertad.

We walked past a couple of music stores and stepped inside just because I miss my instruments.  I learned about a bajoquinto (CGCFA) and a bajosexto.  Then back home - a lot of walking, on the premise that the more you walk, the longer you’ll be able to keep walking.  We noticed about fifty orange trees with ripe oranges along our block of the city alone; all just above our reach, of course.  Taller people than us have been able to get first pickings.  But someone on one street kindly collected fallen ripe oranges and piled them in neat little groups of three or four for homeless passers-by.

In the evening we hiked back to the Plaza des Armas and watched the Jalisco State orchestra of some fifty musicians playing Valentine’s music, beginning with Besame Mucho (which, sadly, they delivered as some sort of jazz march) followed by What a Difference a Day Makes.  They were pretty good, tight but a bit square.  After a half-hour they took a break and we went around the corner to catch a folk orchestra with a variety of stringed instruments playing and singing Mexican songs on a raised gazebo.  Three ladies in the front played a lead in unison on six string guitars but with a clear, twangy sound - I wondered what strings they had on them.  Farther down there was folk dancing and twirling of skirts attached to the women’s wrists, reminding me of a nudibranch known as a Spanish Dancer, but the sound system was too painfully loud to get close enough to watch them.  It got worse when some rock artists put on a sound and light show, with enough volume to rock the whole city.  Deb had her fingers in her ears a block away from them.  I can’t fathom people who crowd the stage at such events.  Hearing loss is a given.  So we left and walked home.

Feb 16th.  A really slow start to the day, today: we may have overdone our hiking and sightseeing yesterday, and overnight I developed the same sinus-based cold that Deborah has fought for three days.  The sinus taps turn on intermittently.  Fortunately it seems to be a “light” cold and won’t last long.  Our immune systems are tuned up with vaccinations over the past two years, of course.  We had a wholesome breakfast at Lidia’s - no line-up, people don’t like to go out for breakfast on cold, wet days.

I began to notice that my tablet, which can’t be loaded with data, frequently shows a lower quote for Uber trips than my phone.  We don’t use the tablet because we can’t add a tip once we arrive.  But I suddenly recalled that Didi operates in Guadalajara.  We’d used it occasionally in Mexico City.  Deb still had the app on her phone, so we compared rates, and for both of today’s rides, Didi was cheaper than Uber so we used their service.  

We went to the Museo de Ciudad, which walked us through 500 years of the history of the city since its founding. Then we walked in the rain to La Chata, a restaurant that is an institution in the city, very popular with locals and visitors alike.  It’s in the Centro, not far from the Cathedral.  I had traditional pozole blanco mixto, con pollo y cerdo, and Deb had Caldo Tlapeno.  It was a good day for hot soup.  Then we split a traditional postre called Jericallas, which was like flan combined with creme brule.  It wasn’t far to walk home, but with a light rain continuing, we opted for another Didi.  It took a while to get to us, between the one way streets in the city core and the traffic.  But once it got there we were home in five minutes.

Feb 17th.  Ten days left in our Guadalajara adventure.  I worry that we’ll run out of interesting choices to fill our days, but we’ll see how it goes.  Two days of rain finally stopped this morning around 8 a.m. and the sun is out, but my nose is still like Niagara Falls, and sometimes my eyes water at the same time - water pouring out of my face.  Deb had pills but they didn’t dam the flow; we got more from the pharmacy on Alcalde but they also seemed impotent in the face of this virus.  

Our favourite breakfast cafe had a traditional treat usually popular at Easter called Capirotada, which is a kind of bread pudding.  We will have it at supper after tacos near our room, and that might be our highlight for the day.  I want to nurse this cold until it is over, and the view from the lounge beside the pool is restorative in the bright sun. Finches and hummingbirds frequent the vertical wall of plants in the sunshine at the shallow end of the pool - peach, yellow, red and blue flowers.

Being the news junkie that I am, I’ve soaked in an alarming report about breaking heat records around the world, including having the warmest February on record in Toronto, and that every one of the last eleven months has broken records glocally.  The ocean, our great heat sink, is a full degree warmer now than the 1992 to 2011 average.   I need to reflect on what that’ll mean for my garden, our travels in winter and summer, and how comfortable we’ll be in our home.  I’m not too worried about our home, as long as our AC functions; last summer we used it quite a bit longer than in previous years, when there might have been two weeks each summer that had unbearable heat.  More garden umbrellas and old sails, and commercially made window awnings, might be good countermeasures during the peak of summer heat.

We had supper a few steps from our door, at a new taqueria Al Catedral that has just opened, all clean and shiny.  We had tacos al pastor, Deb also had a beef tongue taco and I had a Gringa, which is a lot like an quesadilla, with chorizo and pastor meat.  

After my third nap of the day, we decided we needed to get out of the room.  The 5 day GLuz festival is in its 4th day, so we walked down to the cathedral.  Mercifully my sinuses were finally taking a break, more or less.  The orchestra wasn’t rained out today, but their program was the same as we’d heard two days earlier so we walked down toward the Hospicio.  We got to see a dancer, Mexican acrobats and jugglers, and a fire-breather/dancer, and several sets of the fireworks that shake our house eight blocks away. After two hours of that, we hiked home again.

Feb 18th.  Marych was closed; breakfast at Lidia took an hour. I didn’t want to go further afield because I wanted time to walk up eight blocks to Teatro Degollado where the Jalisco Symphony was putting on a regular Sunday afternoon concert at @12:30 and I worried that if we didn’t arrive by noon we might not get tickets.  $15 each got us inside that beautiful space with really great acoustics, and the orchestra was impeccable.They played Faure and Mendelssohn for an hour.

Afterward I led Deborah to Mariachi Plaza, which we hadn’t seen yet.  A mariachi band was playing and there were two music stores on the block.  I asked about the strings that the ladies in the folk orchestra were playing on Friday evening.  The store owner of “The Magic Flute” sold me some silver wound red nylon strings that he assured me would give the brilliant sound they’d been able to summon up for their lead melodies - quite different than the softer sound of a classical guitar.

We walked up past souvenir stalls until Deb decided what she wanted to buy for Ursula and Ian for their attention to our home while we were gone: two Frida Kahlo aprons.  Lawrence gave us the Salma Hayek movie from 2020, which we’ll share with them.

We ate there in the plaza at Los Pacenos.  Deb had a taco de pescado capeado and I had a soft burrito with cheese, marlin and shrimp.  Very good.  Then it was time to head home for a nap.

Feb 19th.  We walked up to El Piloncillo for breakfast.  It was so-so.  El Piloncillo is a “little pylon”, and comes in a sugar bowl at Lidia’s; it’s a smaller version of the really old form that raw sugar used to be marketed in.  I think I’ve mentioned that already.

We thought we’d have a low key day beginning at Museo El Periodismo, which is in the Casa de Los Perros, but it was closed on Mondays, as many museums are.  We’d forgotten that, and forgotten to check.  So we strolled the streets near the Mercado Corona and found the guy Deb wanted to buy her nuts mixture from; then we bought her a new hat since hers is fraying around the brim.  We strolled through art and ceramics stores because they often have better works and better displays than many museums.  It was interesting to see what Mexicans buy in the small stores in all the narrow streets around the Centro.  These store owners are not threatened by AI; I think they’ll always be able to stock and hock their wares.

Finally we walked to the square with the permanent two-story carousel, and behind that was a higher-end restaurant called Casa Dolores.  We went up the stairs and saw photos everywhere of the famous 40’s movie star Dolores Del Rio.  They offered us a free “coronalita” (210 mls) which we accepted, and we ordered a Molcajete to split, the most extravagant one they offered.  We filled our own tortillas with chunks of sirloin, shrimp, avocado, nopales, onions, radish, bone marrow, chorizo, chicken, some soft white cheese called panela, and some mild white peppers.They had an enormous screen over the bar with videos of Mexican musicians playing, clearly the next best thing to live music.

We walked home in 28 degree heat although it had been 7 degrees when I woke up this morning. The genius of the architecture of the old hotel we’re in becomes obvious in this heat.  The narrow passage between our rooms is covered in greenery which provides shade, the concrete flagstones are damp and the two fountains are always running and splashing out a little water around themselves, to allow evaporative cooling.  The solid masonry structure retains heat overnight and is cooler during the day than more modern structures.

The city is running their 5 day event for an extra evening tonight because of the two rain-outs they experienced.  We hiked up to the cathedral to hear the symphony playing again, and watch the fireworks. Around the corner at the Pavilion we caught a different folkloric group which was very popular with the crowd. They sang cheerful songs that everyone seemed to know and the audience danced and sang along. They were called Estudiantina Guadalajara. There were five mandolins, five Spanish guitars, an upright bass, one 48 bass accordion, one fiddle and one effervescent tambourine player who was good at counting everyone in with the right tempo. They wore black capes festooned with dozens of colourful ribbons for all the music competitions they've won.  Seven young women and seven young men, all of whom sang lustily and in three part harmony.  For a finale at the end of their set, one young man took off his cape and whipped it back and forth like a bull-fighter’s cape; then he picked up a tambourine and stretched his arms until the toe of his boot kicked the tambourine, in time.

Deb just told me that her phone says we've walked six kilometers already today. It'll be seven by the time we get home.  It isn’t the furthest we’ve gone in a day.  These mid-winter Mexican urban hiking holidays are quite good for us.

Feb 20th.  David told us about a concert by a folkloric group that’ll happen in the Teatro Degollado on the 24th.  He shared the poster with us. It’s free, but you need tickets - that’s how they control numbers.  We walked up to the Taquilla (box office) but they didn’t have any; walked down to tourist info and got lots of advice for things we’ll do for the rest of the week, but no tickets; up to a special kiosk that was supposed to have them, but no luck there either; they walked us across the street to an office with no signage where a kind lady was equally nonplussed but promised to send Deb a WhatsApp with the relevant info if she could find it.

We learned that there are Saturday and Sunday morning music workshops at the arts faculty of the university kitty-corner to the Teatro Degollado, at 9 a.m.  

Once that task was completed we went to the Museo Periodismo, which was a little bit interesting but more of my language lesson for the day than anything exciting or intriguing.  Then home for a nap, and some tablet-time before choosing a spot for dinner.  When we went out again I didn’t feel like walking very far, and we noticed that the Wong Wong restaurant was filling their bins with fresh, hot food items, so Deborah suddenly agreed that we should eat there again despite her prior disappointment.  We enjoyed steaming broccoli, corn, freshly fried chicken and a few other items, followed by a diverse platter of fruit and jello.  Then we exchanged numbers and selfies with the owner (well, the mother; I think the whole family works there, including the grandmother) and promised to say hello to her daughter who is studying at Sheridan College in Toronto - a Chinese Mexican from Guadalajara who speaks Spanish in Toronto can’t be hard to locate.

We thought we’d revisit our thumbs-down on the aquarium tomorrow; it is cheaper than the aquarium in Toronto and is supposed to be a “must-see”, so maybe it’ll turn out well.  But late last night Deborah learned that we need to line up down at the Directorate of Culture on Pino Suarez for two of 200 free tickets to the folkloric performance that will be released at noon, so that’ll be our first adventure.  The performance, if we manage to go to it, is on the 24th at 7 p.m., and it’s kind of a big deal extravaganza on-stage performance in the Teatro.

Puts a bit of a hole in our day that prevents us from visiting a couple of sites further afield, but we have a couple of spare days left before we leave, I think.  We might try to attend the Jalisco choir again tomorrow at 7.  It was good the first time.

Feb 21st. After laundry and breakfast we walked to the designated building to claim our tickets. We arrived at eleven and there were already ten people ahead of us. By 11:30 there were fifty, and each person in line was entitled to two tickets. The cap for this morning's lineup is 100. Another 100 will be given out at 4 p.m. People who waited in line said that it was a damn silly way to distribute tickets for a theatre with 1,000 seats or more, but they were orderly. Nobody tried to jump the line. The distribution commenced promptly at noon and each person was handed two tickets, without any question as to whether they were a couple, or actually wanted two tickets apiece.  I wonder if some will be scalped to tourists on the Plaza Independencia in front of the theatre on Saturday?  Tourists who don’t speak Spanish and couldn’t find their way to the funky little back-street office to get them at the right times?  200 was the limit to the tickets distributed in this way; we don’t know who got the other 800+.  They aren’t available at the official theatre box office.

We have another lovely building around the corner from us called the Teatro Cine Espana.  It is undergoing renovation according to online info; that began in 2020 during the pandemic.  

In the afternoon I had a haircut and we wandered, considering where to have supper.  We’d never had dinner at Lidia’s so we stepped inside and were presented with a set menu called a "comida corrida": a few choices for sopa, a few more for platos fuertes (meat dishes), an agua fresca which is not water but a drink, and jello for dessert - all for $100 pesos per person.  What a surprise.  They change the menu every day; if we’d known, we’d have gone there more often.  There were still many unfamiliar words, but we managed to pick stuff that we enjoyed.  My agua fresca choice was kalua - non-alcoholic and not sickly sweet but a nice milky coffee cold drink.  Deb’s was a lemonade.  She had “flower of calabash” soup.  I had some “canary rice”, yellow and tasty.

The jazz choir sang in the courtyard of the Ministry of Culture building, very old and grand.  Deborah has photos.  They added a bass player and drummer who were quite good.  The sound was better, not as much echo off the walls, but of course it went straight up, and they put the three musicians in front of the conductor and the singers behind them so the audience was two steps removed from them.  An oval seating plan for the audience might have helped.  But they sang as well as before and we really enjoyed the concert.  There was one coloratura operatic singer who really made you see colours from her voice, and a very strong and dramatic tenor.

Feb 22nd.  Tonalá is the 4th largest city in Mexico and has the largest Tianguis, or open air market in the country.  It is mind-blowing.  Two hours doesn’t scratch the surface; two weeks might.  Here’s a write-up and a few photos by someone else online.  We went there via an hour of bone-jarring transport through urban sprawl on a bus with a gear shift that ground and banged, with a driver who didn’t care and who lurched so hard that I barely managed to shift seats.  Deb sat next to three ladies in the back row of the bus and one of them told her, “Grab the headrest on the seat ahead of you, to prevent from smashing your face on it.”  Later, one young lady slid down the aisle toward the front of the bus on her back like a turtle.  I offered my paw and got her back on her feet - luckily she wasn’t too hefty.

There are amazing statues all down the median as you enter the Tianguis, which only opens on Thursdays and Sunday; we saw them from the bus, but we overshot our destination courtesy of the bus driver, he of little courtesy, that was…and although we walked the market stalls for an hour and another hour in nearby streets, we never saw them from the ground and couldn’t get our own photos.  We tried to find the hand-woven ukulele straps that Deb’s been craving since we saw them at Elizabeth’s, but three different vendors were absolutely convinced we’d find them in three different directions, and all were wrong - the typical “Mexican directions” game, it seems.  Never mind…we’ll probably find them at Value Village when we get home to Toronto.

We made it home on the bus in time for another fixed price supper at Lidia’s which was quite good.  Deb was excited to see flan as the dessert on offer, but they’d run out and we got fruit salad.  We’ll find her a flan tomorrow.

In the evening we went out for a stroll to Fray Antonio Alcalde Plaza, in front of the Santuario of our Virgin Lady of Guadalupe.  We were hoping to watch an amazing “videomapping” light show, but the tourist officials, not for the first time, had no idea what the correct dates and details were.  If we’d relied on them we’d never have gotten our tickets to Saturday evening’s show, either.  But instead we watched kids of all ages, the younger ones with their attentive parents, racing around the square on roller skates and inline skates, and even a few on scooters.  Many had lights inside their wheels that spun around in different colours.  Every so often one would tumble and their friends would race over and circle them, calling out “una herida!” (a wounded one!) and help the fallen to her feet.  Adult coaches organized skill drills with little pylons and led the kids in stretches, while three older boys played a game of shimmy with hockey sticks, protective gear and two tiny portable nets. It was a soft, balmy night.

Feb 23rd.  Deb might need to take a sick day.  She’s a trooper, but last night she had cramps and she was awake early this morning - not at all like her - to tend to her stomach.

I spoke too soon. With “little pink pills”, Deborah says she's good to go. We breakfasted at Cafe Cigales, a lovely clean new room north of the Sanctuario, with space, tile, blue linen tablecloths and yellow mini chrysanthemums that the restaurateur assures us will last for fifteen days.

The aquarium turned out to be much better than we’d imagined.  We saw a lot of species from around the world, including axolotls and seahorses, which I enjoy.  We watched kids hand feeding stingrays; the stingrays didn’t seem clear on what “hand” feeding meant, but fortunately they have no teeth.  Deb fed goats, who butted her and began eating her shirt.  Lots of good photos.

We had supper at Mariscos Hilda again so that Deb could get her plate of marlin tacos blandito (I had the same but dorado).  All told, we walked 4.6 kms and the temperature was 31 degrees; we’re trying to soak it all in before we get back to Toronto.  We have three more days in the sunshine.  I won’t be sad to get home to my instruments but I’m wringing out every last drop of pleasure from the summer weather here.

Feb 24th.  I ought to comment on the walkability of Guadalajara.  If you rent a place in the downtown “Centro”, you can get to a couple of week’s worth of attractions easily on foot.  A few others are accessible by bus or Metro, although buses tend to be a bit grueling; Uber or Didi are often a better choice..  

Buildings here come right up to the edge of a narrow sidewalk that often has holes and broken concrete, and many ups and downs so you need to watch your step as you walk; and later each day you’ll find yourself playing hopscotch over dog doo-doo.  Mexicans love their little dogs; in Ajijic they pick up, but here, not so much.  The lot that a house sits on is probably the same size as mine at home in Scarborough, but the whole lot is used internally; where we would have a fence or a hedge and then a lawn that needs to be mowed, they build the front wall and door of their home, and have an inside courtyard instead.  It might be a container garden and fountain inside, or a business.  There’s often no indication from the outside what you might find there-in.  Sometimes it’s a nice restaurant.  There’s no need for central heating, so every home is essentially a large masonry barn that opens right onto the street.

There are a lot of public squares, gardens and plazas, and permanent indoor markets (but open to the exterior - they get locked at night with gates) along with outdoor stalls in tianguis, which can stretch for many blocks in each neighbourhood, blocking the streets once or twice a week like enormous community garage sales, but with mostly new crafts, hardware, make-up or clothing items, and of course food stalls.  Mexicans love to eat out at food stalls set up on street corners or at the edge of parks, and they seem to love shopping in person.  I haven’t seen Amazon delivery here, although I know it exists, and Deb has seen several Amazon delivery cube vans.  Eating out at food stalls is a social activity for the vendor as well as the consumers.

In short, if you choose the right location, you can survive comfortably without a car, and the weather is fine for walking - nothing more than a light jacket needed.  If you need to get somewhere on wheels you have buses, metro, Uber and Didi, and many private drivers willing to step up.  Using Uber or Didi regularly would be immensely cheaper than maintaining a car of your own (probably would for a lot of people in Canada, too).  We have a neighbour across the street who will take us to the airport on Tuesday for barely more than the cost of an Uber during an average fare point of the day (Uber uses surge pricing so it would probably cost more at the hour we want to go).  Most cars are kept on the street in the average neighbourhood, occasionally covered by a layer of dust and with flat tires; there doesn’t seem to be a time limit on street parking.

And finally, you never get hassled by vendors here. Sometimes you get approached, but when you say “No, gracias” they cheerfully go away.  They often invite you into their store as you’re walking along the street, but you could just have a conversation instead of buying something, and they’d be just as pleased with your attention.  I’m often struck by the old-world manners of vendors and people on the street.  When you enter a restaurant the custom is to say good-day to diners already seated there, even though they are total strangers to you; when you leave while they are still eating, the custom is to wish them “buen provecho”, “enjoy your meal”, and “que vaya bien” or “que tenga un buen dia”,  which is short for “I hope that your day goes well”.

Our afternoon began as a Royal Snafu.  The bus that google maps said would come every ten minutes to take to Agua Azul didn’t come at all.  A bus with a similar number came.  Then another with that number, an hour later.  The fruit seller who worked at that street corner said “Oh, that’s the one!” but by then it was across the intersection and we couldn’t have caught it.  We resigned ourselves to calling up a Didi.  The fruit seller said, “Since they put in the subway station, they changed all the bus numbers and routes”...but nobody had bothered to tell Google, it seems.

At the park it wasn't much better, at first.  There was a butterfly pavilion, a “mariposaria”, but all locked up and it looked like there were nothing more than little white cabbage moths inside.  Likewise the Orchidarium - and like Mexico City, it seemed to have nothing but green plants.  In Mexico City we saw great blooming orchid plants at flower sellers, not in their orchidarium. The Aviary had a locked two stage door with a sign that gave hours that should have allowed us in, but there was no-one inside except for the plants and birds.  We walked around to the opposite corner - it was an enormous aviary - and found another two-stage door where the posted hours were different, and there was a young man struggling to solve the puzzle of which key might unlock the door.  After a while he walked back to the office to find other keys.  People began to line up.  When he returned, he lead us through the aviary as a group.  Deb was thrilled because she loves smart, friendly birds: parrots, crows, and others.

After that we walked to an outdoor wildlife hospital area where macaws and some other species rehabilitate.  They can’t fly, and we could only watch from behind a rope, but they seemed happy.  There was a lone yellow-billed toucan, and a cage with young squirrels.  Our friend Grace, who accompanied us to the evening performance later, pointed out that macaws live perhaps 80 years, and people don’t consider that when they acquire them, so that might explain why so many end up in the rehab centre and then the aviary.

We toured a small museum of paleontology and then Ubered home for dinner and a nap, after which we hiked the eight blocks to the Teatro Degollado, where we lined up to get in with our tickets to the Ballet Folclorico Guadalajara.  The link will take you to their facebook page. A video of the concert we attended was posted there, but as time goes on I'm sure newer ones will be posted above it.

This was a spectacular show - not your usual ballet, but six presentations of dances and songs from different regions in and close to Guadalajara, including the Nine Corners Tapatio heritage, the charro community, the Sinaloa Carnaval tradition, the nearby region of Zacateco, the mariachi tradition of Guadalajara, etc.  Representative music groups from each area performed for the dancers, so we had full complements of violins, brass, an accordion, guitars and basses,drummers, a salterio (and one masterful solo performance by the musician who played that and earned rousing applause) and a harp player.    

The costumes were amazing.  Grace, a slight young man with a thick black beard, nose ring and tattoos, got one of our extra tickets (he’s staying here in Las Sabilas) and knew about the history of the region.  He’s from San Francisco but grew up in a small town near Guadalajara.  He overheard people behind him commenting on the fact that the original costumes were not as floral, and the dance steps were simplified for the performance; what we saw were spectacular expressions of the dress-maker’s art, complex tradition-based costumes for the men, and elaborate choreographies to go with the musical arrangements.  Deborah’s little phone camera couldn’t capture it, especially from the front of the third balcony.  There are lots of google images to stand in for Deborah’s phone camera, and some videos from 2020 if you pick the videos tab; I suspect the production was shut down during Covid. The show was a welcome serendipitous highlight to cap off our five weeks in this part of Mexico.  We were very lucky (and persistent) to score these free seats.  We were definitely up in the nose-bleed cheap seats, but prices online range from $25 where we were to $102 down below.  You can tell how delighted Deborah was by her day by how many photos she took; when we get home I will try to crop them and adjust lighting, and dump a bunch.


Feb 25th.  Today we’ll head to Bosque Los Colomos, which has some sort of culture centre, a celebrated forested area and a Japanese garden.  Our purpose is to soak in the greenery and the warmth in a relaxing way far from the traffic and city bustle before we head back to Toronto.  On Monday we won’t stray far from home because Deb wants to check in online 24 hours in advance (higher chance of being assigned two seats together), and because we’ve literally run out of novel experiences.  Guadalajara filled two and a half weeks.  There must be more to see, but except for taking the run to the Tequila distilleries and town, which are rather pointless for a diabetic, we can’t think of anything more to schedule in our final full day.  There are, of course, a great many cathedrals to wander into and gawk at for the religiously inclined and those attracted to religious iconography, architecture and gilt (as opposed to “guilt”, but there’s plenty of that hanging in the air in those buildings, too.)

We tried to attend a 9 a.m. music workshop at the faculty of music next to the Teatro, but were denied - security risk, they said.  Breakfast at Lidia’s: the three front rooms were full including the tables actually in the kitchen.  We were assigned an empty table in the furthest room back.  The parrots were furious at the boy who was sluicing down the floor in the back supply room where they live next to the washroom (with a good skylight).  They were very loud, but the other breakfast guests were tolerant, so I ignored them myself.  Soon they stopped and we enjoyed our meal.

We walked home past Aztec doves, who are on every sidewalk and wait until you’re almost on top of them before they fly up and out of your way.  You could easily tame them and feed them by hand.  If you google them you have to enter Inca Dove, because of an error by an early ornithologist who “discovered” them and wasn’t savvy enough to know that Incas lived in S. America and Aztecs lived in Mexico.  They are also known as Mexican doves, therefore. My preference, incorrect though it may be, is to call them Aztec doves, since they were here long before the Mexican republic existed.  We hear doves every day but maybe the larger morning doves.

The news about the water supply in Mexico City isn’t good.  I’m glad we visited there last winter.

We took the metro to Plaza Patria and then a Didi to the entrance to Parque Los Colomos.  This is a very large urban forest with a few attractions inside, but the first thing that greets your eyes is a small herd of horses and ponies of all sizes, saddled up and ready for trail rides through the forest.  The saddles have Mexican pommels.  They were charming and well-behaved, and some nosed for attention.  Apart from that, there was a small but pleasant Japanese garden.  A hillside full of Mexican ground squirrels delighted all the kids when they came up to be fed.  They were very tame and very polite to us and to the kids.  We saw some ducks and turtles, and very large koi.  

We detoured to 7 Pozoles restaurant on the way home and both ordered pozole blanco (blanco has shredded chicken and radish in it, and you add diced onion, squeezed limes and hot sauce to taste).  A lady sitting at a nearby table with her young daughter was sharing her pozole with a pet green parrot that was friendly to us but otherwise clearly her bird, riding on her shoulder and all over her lap and backpack.  When he (she?) migrated to my shoulder he promptly snipped my rubber glasses holder quicker than you could say “Polly”.  The lady wants to visit Toronto in July, so she and Deb exchanged WhatsApp numbers.  I said that Deb should tell her to bring the parrot.  When the lady left, the parrot just rode nonchalantly on her shoulder without the slightest fuss.

Still 31 degrees every day; we walked 6.73 kms today, trying to keep to the shade of trees and buildings.  At night we are running the ceiling fan over our bed again.

Feb 26th.  This morning on the way to breakfast we saw a man with a white cockatiel on his shoulder, walking across the street away from the market.  Why do birds willingly remain attached to people’s shoulders, even in traffic or a crowded market?  

This is our last full day in Guadalajara  By 1:30 we’d hiked to the Mercado Libertad, where we spotted and made last minute purchases.  Deb got her ukulele strap and I got my special axolotl t-shirt.  They weren’t terribly cheap but we’re both happy.  We toured dozens of alleys, hundreds of stalls out of the thousands that are there, to find what we wanted.  The vendors are all very kind, polite and helpful.  Even if they don’t have what you want, they’ll often walk you in the right direction if they think they know where it might be.  We also spent a little time in stalls that sell caged birds,  bunnies, guinea pigs and the like. Now Deb will sign on and check in for tomorrow’s flight, and then we’ll nap and after that, go to Lidia’s for supper.  

I read a recent research report that explains that the human brain shrinks as it gets older, leading to age related cognitive disorders.  Naps during the day - ideally about 30 minutes, although mine vary between that and an hour - rejuvenate and rehydrate the brain tissue, leading, over time, to as much as 6.5% less shrinkage.  Nothing worse than a dessicated old piece of jerky for a brain, I say.  I still get 8 hours of sleep out of each 24, so the math works.

Feb 27th.  We had a two hour transfer in Houston on the way home but it took almost the full two hours to make our next flight.  The connection process was a miserable madhouse.  Security was extreme, the line-ups were horrendous, no United agents advised us on where to go and there was negligible signage.  A day later I realized the reason, perhaps: the U.S. had gone gonzo over migrants, in particular those who fly to Canada and then get across the southern border into the U.S.  They pressured Canada to enforce visas for Mexican nationals in a surprise measure that takes effect this evening, Feb 28th for anyone not already in the air on a flight - this seems monstrously cruel given that many people will have purchased tickets for days, weeks and even months in the future and will not have visas.  One has no idea how long it will take for Canada to respond to visa requests - given the backed up bureaucracy in Canada right now, probably too long - and if a Mexican doesn’t have a visa the airline won’t let them on board, but won’t refund their travel costs.  There are a few exceptions, none of whom apply to tourists, and that’s a 700 million dollar loss in tourism.  Our current liberal administration is nuts.  I hope it hurts them in the next election, but I can’t imagine who can do better; Jagmeet Singh, possibly, but he would have little chance of getting elected.

Interestingly, it was 8 degrees when we landed, and we got home by 1:30 a.m.; the next day it was fourteen degrees but suddenly dropped to minus twelve overnight, with glassy roads.  My anti-lock brakes activated as I applied my brakes on my approach to a crosswalk with people on it.  Temperatures will be like a roller coaster going into March.