Monday, April 16, 2012

Guadalajara Road Trip

Following the last conversation with our mechanic I estimated that our stay here in Barra would be extended by, at a minimum, three more weeks.  Given our current circumstance, the morale level aboard the good ship Jean Marie has been decidedly lower.  It didn't seem necessary for all of us to sit here waiting for the engine, so in an effort to deflect any discussion of mutiny we decided to get off the boat for a little while. 

Millie was planning on taking Colin back to Florida to visit his grandparents in June but, since we have a lot of spare time at the moment, April seems like a better month to travel.  Millie and Colin could enjoy some quality time with friends and family, and I could stay here and work on a few long overdue boat projects.  Even though I would be missing Colin's first birthday party, we both agreed this trip would be the best use of our time.

To get the best deal on flights in or out of Mexico requires a trip to Guadalajara, a 5-hour bus ride.  The first-class buses in Mexico are comfortable and inexpensive and, after being cooped up on the boat for weeks, a long bus ride offered a welcomed change of scenery.  And, if we're going that far, we may as well spend a few days checking out the city.

My only memory of Guadalajara is a dusty unappealing airport where I was forced to fly in to a couple times many years ago.  I never considered the city to be much of a tourist destination, but as described by the Lonely Planet guide:  "Guadalajara's countless charms are distributed equally and liberally throughout its distinct neighborhoods.  The city's Centro Historico (Historic Center) is dotted with proud colonial relics that house museums, government offices, bars, and hotels.  [...] Guadalajara's many contributions to the Mexican lifestyle include tequila, mariachi music, the broad-rimmed sombrero, chareadas (rodeos) and the Mexican Hat Dance, and these days it is also known for its outstanding food."

That description certainly piqued my interest and Millie, understandably, would have agreed to go anywhere with a warm shower and a flush toilet.  So, we booked a flight, worked out a 2-day itinerary in the Historic Center, and started packing.  Reggie and Phoebe on Three Sheets graciously offered to dog sit for us and then, to our complete surprise, Jo Ann and Ralph on Ensueño offered to drive us there. 

Reggie and Phoebe are a Canadian couple who were originally planning a pacific crossing this year until their engine seized up.  Due to countless delays with insurance agents, shipping agents, and parts supplier they've been stranded here in Barra waiting on a rebuild even longer than we have.  We share a common empathy and frustration with shipping and engine repair in Mexico.  And, although I'm sorry to see them suffer the same fate it's nice to have someone to share engine woes with.

Jo Ann and Ralph are an interesting, energetic, and well-traveled elderly couple from Lodi, California.  They like to spend their winters down here and prefer to drive down and have a car available for inland excursions.  Like us, they have been cooped up on the boat due to Ralph's nagging hip injury, so when they heard we were planning a trip to Guadalajara it was all the motivation they needed to go for a drive.

We called for a water taxi in the morning to take us to the marina where we dropped of Keiko, loaded our bags into the car, and headed for Guadalajara.  We stopped in Colima for lunch where we dined on surprisingly good Chinese food at a shopping mall and I took over the driving.  I managed to get us all the way to the Hotel Frances in the city center with only a couple unintended detours along the way.  

The Lonely Planet guide describes the Hotel Frances as a "living, breathing baroque time capsule [...] operating since 1610".  This is an apt description of the hotel and if it weren't for the TV sets bolted to the wall you'd think you stepped back in time.  It certainly is not a luxurious hotel, but the rooms are clean and in such an historic setting it's easy to do without modern conveniences.  We checked into a large suite on the second floor with a king-sized bed, an iron balcony, hardwood floors, and plenty of room for Colin to practice his newly-acquired walking skills.

At some point in the previous day or so I managed to catch a cold.  This would be the third time in the past few months that I've been sick.  It seems my immune system is taking a siesta here in Mexico.  We've had a talk about it and, with help from vitamin supplements, it will try to step up and do a better job.

In the meantime, I've been fighting through the runny nose, the coughs, and the sneezes in an effort to see some of the sights.  We've only got a couple days here and I'm not going to spend that time lying prostrate on a hotel bed.  So, off we went.  First stop...the pharmacy.  Armed with sinus spray, cough medicine, and Kleenex we went on a walking tour of Guadalajara's old Historic Center.

I have to say the Catholics really know how to build a church and spare no expense in the process.  The twin tower Cathedral is magnificent.  Consecrated in 1618 it's the central landmark in the old city.  We sat in the back marvelling at the ornate detail as Colin napped in his stroller and I sucked on cough drops. 

Muscle memory or, perhaps, guilt from a Catholic childhood soon kicked in for Millie as she demonstrated the proper way to kneel and make the sign of the cross.  She declined my offer to take her confession so we continued our walking tour through the busy plazas and street markets.

In the late afternoon we made our way back to the hotel for a nap before dinner.  I'd read about a restaurant south of the city center that specializes in "birria", meat steamed in its own juices until its so tender it melts in your mouth.  We had to go. 

So, that evening, we strolled through the city a half-dozen blocks to a quiet little street where we found the restaurant.  We took a seat near the sidewalk as two elderly women stirred large pots and a smiling young waiter handed us menus.  We came for the "barbacoa de borrego" (baked lamb) so it didn't take long to order.  Fifteen minutes later we feasted on hot plates of tender lamb and homemade corn tortillas while Colin devoured his mashed veggies and refried beans.  Qué rico!
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Anonymous said...

wow..what a great "get-a-way"..sounds like you had a great time,a well deserved vacation from your boat problems!how nice of reggie&phoebe to take care of kaiko,what a relief with her!and to how nice to have your other friends drive you!! if i'm lucky enough to get back to mex., i'd like to visit there too!
chat soon...:)

mom said...

i wrote the last comment.. i don't know how, but it only goes through under anonymous? :0