Aside from the name recognition of Guadalajara as a city in Mexico I went into our experience in Guadalajara with little to no expectations. Sometimes in life that is the best way to approach things, yet unlike my experience in Guadalajara which was pure innocent unknown, it takes careful thought. The mind is a fickle beast that loves to interpret, make elaborate guess work, and all-around color the images of what you see before you even behold them. This instinctual gift allows us to not be surprised by new events and protects ourselves from potential harm. One of the gifts of being cut free from responsibility and the demands of life is the gift of an empty mind that is more equipped to quiet these natural filters and is open to receive events as they come. In Guadalajara we got our first taste of Mexico beyond the beach towns, which to that point had been all we had seen of Mexico, in the third largest city in the country. Sometimes bizarre, art and architecturally centric, and a bit of ancient history to boot made it an experience I won’t forget.
The first thing that we realized was Guadalajara was huge and to avoid racking up a huge cab bill ( we were having issues with Uber on Mandy’s phone, also at this point I am sans phone…long story) we stumbled across an app that was fantastic for navigating the somewhat complex public transport in Guadalajara, called Moovit. This app would allow you to plug in any location in the city and from there would plot all the current bus schedules, where to pick them up, how many stops to ride, and how long it would take.
On our first bus ride into the heart of Guadalajara we were approaching the final stop where we would be in the city center when….WHAM. My head crunches into the seat in front of us, the standing bus riders are thrown from their feet; a car accident on a bus, really? Our bus driver, who must have fancied himself a Mario Andretti, had rear ended the person in front of us. Dazed and confused we entered Guadalajara central, what a start!
The Plaza de Armas was breathtaking with wide open spaces packed with people and a giant Catholic cathedral shooting out of the skyline. Our first taste of the huge Catholic cathedrals of Mexico the Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady is a minor basilica built in the Spanish renaissance style with Neo Gothic spires, originally built in 1541. As with many cathedrals in Mexico earthquakes have wreaked havoc on the structure and even now construction goes on within the cathedral to repair damage from the latest earthquake in 2003. Not to mention the quakes of 1932, 1957, 1979, 1985, and 1995.
After getting our iconic city sign shot we moved along to some of the some of the rich art history in Guadalajara. On Tuesdays the Instituto Culturo Cabanas is free to the public which made it a perfect choice for a Tuesday afternoon. The museum features a wide range of exhibits that were educational and interactive in some cases. But the star of the show was the giant frescos painted by Jose Clemente Orozco in the late 1930’s, culminating in a cathedral like dome where his Man on Fire is displayed. Orozco is an artist I had never heard of prior to visiting the museum. His art was equal parts majestic and terrifying. His own life story is riddled with trauma including the loss of his right hand as a young boy. When marveling at the scale and raw nature of the art it blew my mind this was done by a one handed man. His art simply draws you in and makes you want to lay down on the concrete and stare up at the ceiling, and some museum goers did!
Speaking of little known gems of culture Guadalajara is also home to Luche Libre (like that transition?) For those who are unfamiliar and haven’t seen the Jack Black film Nacho Libre this is essentially WWF (not the World Wildlife Fund) live action wrestling with masks. The Red Pub in Guadalajara offers a pretty unique way to see this spectacle. First, you start at the bar drinking beers until you and 30 or so of your closest friends pile into a double decker red, London style bus to ride to the stadium. Weaving through the streets the party continues are you are dropped off at the stadium.
I have been to a lot of sporting events in my life. From NFL playoff games to local hockey games to minor and major league baseball, and not all are created equal. Some games have this energy in the air when you walk into the stadium, as if the very molecules you are inhaling are ripe with raw electricity. Each breath in takes in more of the magic sauce until the first pitch, kickoff, or in this case, the first rudo gets taken out by a flying tecnico. The crowd at the stadium was electric with chants raining down from the high rafters with all sorts of Spanish slurs and taunts.
The general premise of the show is there are two sides to the coin, the rudos (bad guys) and the tecnicos (good guys), who battle it out in a series of wrestling matches complete with referee distracting, flying scissor kicks and good ol’ fashioned piledrivers. After the match you pile back on your double-decker and go back to the bar for a night cap. What a night.
Another highlight of our time in Guadalajara was Guachimontones, a set of ancient ruins that were roughly 2 hours outside of Guadalajara. Trying to balance cost and efficiency we decided that we would take a Cabify out to the Guachimontones but then take the public bus back to Guadalajara. This worked well for the most part just a little confusion on which bus to get on back to Guadalajara after buying our tickets.
The site itself was our first taste of some of the ancient Mesoamerican history that Mexico has to offer. When I think ancient Mesoamericans I think Aztecs and Mayans, which is what is typically thought of as the dominant ancient cultures in Mexico. This site was populated from roughly 300 BCE to 900 CE by an ancient civilization currently referred to as the Teuchitlan tradition. As with many of the Mesoamerican cultures of this time not a lot of written history is recorded often leading to a whole host of unnamed civilizations, each unique in architecture, culture, and religion.
Guachimontones itself was a site of religious significance and the centerpiece is a circular stepped pyramid some 60 feet in height. At the top of the pyramid is a hole which fit a tall pole. During a religious ceremony referred to as a Volador ceremony, a priest garbed in feathers would hold himself horizontal and imitate the soaring nature of a bird. Around the temple the priests and villagers would dance. These kinds of visual images really make sites come to life for me. Much of history is your ability to imagine the world that gave rise to these unique structures. Pyramids like the ones in Guachimontones are unlike any other in the world.
Guadalajara was a unique and unexpected experience. We started to learn more about the colonial and ancient Mesoamerican culture while also getting a slice of modern Mexican culture at Luche Libre. We will be back!