Saturday, November 28, 2009

Misadventures in Guadalajardy-har-har

Last week, Israel and I left for our adventure in Guadalajara -- but not without incident. We were late leaving PV. The day literally began with "bad juju." After finishing up several articles and putting out last-minute fires, we finally loaded our luggage and hit the road, stopping briefly at an OXXO store to get ice, while I rearranged luggage for the trip and tried to keep an eye on the dog.

A large, older woman with grey hair in a bun approached me and I automatically held out a few pesos -- we're used to panhandlers. But she wanted something else. She tried to make smalltalk in espanol and got out of me that we were on our way to Guadalajara...I finally went into the OXXO and asked Israel to find out what she wanted. It was all very chaotic and frantic. I said, "Just give her 20 pesos, Israel..." and he says "she's not that kind of woman." By that time, I had the ice and was packing it in the cooler. All of a sudden, I see that the woman has a red candle that she's waving in front Israel, giving him the sign of the cross -- some kind of benediction. What I didn't know was that she'd snookered him out of 100 pesos!

Only after she'd sprinkled a few crumbled pieces of candle wax in his hand and disappeared into thin air, did I learn her modus operandi. She'd told Israel to lay a 100 peso note in her palm (which she would return ofcourse), and set the candle on top of it. After mysteriously revealing that she knew we were going to Guadalara, that his name was "Israel," and that he was in love with me, Israel was certain she had the power to either bless us or curse our trip. Before I could determine what was happening, she had absconded with the 100 peso note. To say I was pissed is an understatement. Israel had scrounged to obtain a 2,000 peso loan to start his business, and I was also underwriting the trip. I was furious, and we rode for the first hour in silence.

The rest of the trip to Guadalajara was uneventful, but long. We stopped only a few times, to exercise the dog and buy candy from a roadside vendor. We arrived in the city as it was getting dark. Israel insisted he knew the town like the back of his hand...but of course, as I've learned with most of Israel's overconfident assertions, they must all be taken with a grain of salt. He couldn't read the map, and so we took one wrong exit after another from a congested highway, repeatedly stopping at PEMEX stations to ask for directions, which Israel invariably forgot by the time he got back into the car. I've decided he is dyslexic (in addition to having ADD), because he simply can't tell left from right. We were trying to make our way to Tonala, a market town on the far side of Guadalajara. Our busy highway finally ran out, turning into a dusty, bumpy dirt road in the middle of nowhere.

Needless to say, I was a trainwreck of emotional exhaustion when we finally stumbled upon Tonala and checked into Hotel Platinum, just across from the market. But our troubles weren't over yet. When I looked in the back for Israel's bag, it wasn't there. Israel had a meltdown, certain that someone stole his bag out of the back of the Beast during one of our stops -- perhaps when the fortune teller had distracted him. My bags were still in the car. On top of all that, he wasn't sure, but he might have packed all his identification documents in the suitcase!

Needless to say, it was a bad moment. The next day, we went to the market and bought him new underwear and socks, and later took the bus into the city where we bought him a new wardrobe from a street vendor -- four pairs of pants and four new shirts for 200 pesos. When I checked the tags closely, I discovered that the clothing was all used, many with Goodwill tags still attached, and new tags stapled to them so they appeared new! Some Mexicans are nothing if not resourceful.

Our misadventures continued when after riding the bus home that night, Israel once more miscalculated our stop and we went past it several blocks and ended up walking in circles in Tonala carrying our bags of stuff. arggggggh. We finally hailed a cab, which took us back to our hotel.

What can I say about Guadalajara? With six million inhabitants, it's a big, smelly city, but also a confection, with European-style architecture, massive old churches and a cosmopolitan feel. The stench of raw sewage running beneath the city reminds you that you are still in Mexico. And the ironies abound: kids in Ambercrombie & Fitch sweaters contrasted with Indian women covered by tent-like shawls, hands upraised begging for a few pesos to feed their babies.

Our best meal, believe it or not, was at the Sirloin Stockade, located on a street that looked like the Champs Elysee, where you could eat like a king for 55 pesos.

One of our goals on the trip was to buy silver and watches to get Israel started in some kind of business. We soon discovered that he didn't have the resources to buy silver in any quantity, but he did know about an indoor market with acres of stalls selling knock-off designer goods from China. Israel located a man selling cheap watches -- some as low as 20 pesos (just over a dollar each). We bought prolly 30 watches (bypassing the fake Rolexes), and spent the rest of the day sightseeing.

But I was wiped out by all the drama. Our adventures included a morning walk around the market in Tonala and misplacing Bo. He normally kept close to us, but we lost him in the rabbit warren of outdoor stalls. He was missing for 40 min. when I finally went back to the hotel and found him waiting for me on the sidewalk in front of the hotel. Thank you, Jesus!

After all that, I decided it was time to get away from the city, which was also causing Israel's sinuses to close up. We left on Saturday afternoon and took the winding, "libre" highway out of the city into the sunset hills, up into the cool mountains, threading through the famous town of Tequila, and Magdalena where opals are mined.

We stopped for the night in Ameca, where we stayed at the Hotel Catalina, with an open-air patio, built in the 40's. This last stretch was by far the best part of the trip. We had dinner at a family restaurant. listening to Andrea Bocelli on a Juke Box and strolling the town plaza. In the morning, it was delightfully frosty and all the farmers were selling their produce in the streets. We ate churros fresh out of the bubbling grease and stopped at a cocina for homemade chicken soup. We left Ameca around 1 pm and wound our way up into mountains that reminded me of Colorado, with pine trees and fresh air that smelled of Eucalyptus. I took a side road up to a tiny ranching community. We let Bo out of the car and he proceeded to roll in all those nice fresh piles of horse manure. We tipped somebody to let us hose off the dog before a spectacular ascent into more mist-covered mountains, and back to Puerto Vallarta.

I've decided that all road trips are a mixed bag -- a mixture of wonder, terror, fatigue and frustration with a few sublime moments to leaven the experience and remind you why you are driven to do such crazy things...

Oh yes. We arrived back home to find Israel's suitcase in the office. In his usual spaced-out way, He had left the suitcase on the ground beside the car...

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