It is December 24th and I float on my back in a swimming pool over bright yellow tiles that say 'CASA SENORINA BON VIVANT'. I have checked into room #5 for two days.
I arrived in Barra de Navidad after the bus failed to drop me off in Melaque. The bus driver said 'few minutes back, take taxi', gosh thanks amigo. Instead I stay in Barra and take a cab to the 'Jalisco Hotel' and check into room #12. The accommodation is not only basic but what I would call 'sticky'. I daresay the Downtown Vancouver East Side has better digs.
Notes on bus travel-
Longer haul buses provide a snack pack as you get on which includes a sandwich (supplied by 'Bimbo' bread products and is moist as a Twinkie), cookies and a choice of drinks.
Seats are spacious with a lot of leg room and a leg rest that looks something like a pull down ironing board.
There are TVs and semi see-through blinds and curtains if the sun is really bothering you.
A sign up front lets you know when the toilets are free (separate Men and Women don't you know).
It is relatively cheap as my ticket to Barra cost about $24.00.
They run on time (so far) and frequently.
Barra de Navidad is quaint with its cobble stone streets, leafy trees and plenty of sidewalk cafes and Melaque is more like a real Mexican town with a better beach. Both are filled with Xpats and Snowbirds. I spot a flock now at the Q Corner Bar in Barra wearing the Snowbird uniform, monochrome colored shorts, tank tops and runners for the men, and the women in pastel colored shorts, tank tops and sandals with perfectly coiffed short gray hair. The Xpats tend to be male barflies and are lined up on bar stools and without exception wear cargo shorts, short sleeved shirts, walking style sandals and baseball caps. There is no room at the bar so Derek an Xpat barfly from Seattle sits down at my table. Our conversation is mostly Derek yammering on about the Snowbirds and that Mexico is a war zone. What I garner from our uplifting conversation is that the Xpats dislike the Snowbirds mostly because the Snowbirds are posers who won't commit. Wow, its like the Sharks and Jets heading for a rumble.
Tonight I went to the jetty and watched a tortuga (turtle) release. It was dark by then so you really couldn't see much and they didn't allow flash photography so you had to have faith that the babies were winging their way to freedom or death on the food chain.
I can't bring myself to spend Christmas in my hovel, under the bare bulb, with torn sheets that are made with a man made fiber so slippery, I wake up on the bare mattress each morning. There are barking dogs on the roof and the water turned black but hey, there is free coffee in a chipped mug missing its handle. My neighbor Alain is from France and we get to know each other over a conversation about art and travel and I feel just a little bit sorry that he will spend his Christmas here while I head over to the elegant Casa Senorina.
Christmas Eve is the night for celebration and religious observance for the faithful in Mexico and so it is at the Casa. Tonight a five course meal is being served el fresco by the pool. I descend the marble staircase around 8:00 pm and sit at my own table between a group of four Americans and a table of eight from France. There is live music being performed by local songster Emmerson, later joined by Billy on the violin. Lights twinkle, the music is fine, the air is soft, it is all pretty magical.
The first course served is four corn Tamales followed by a complicated basket made by some fancy knife work on an innocent cantaloupe which was then hollowed out and filled with apple chunks and walnuts in a white dressing. The dissected cantaloupe quarters were also hollowed out and filled with grated carrots and raisins in a white dressing and placed beside the basket. The scooped cantaloupe flesh must have gone out to get balled somewhere and apparently missed the boat.
So this is where traveling as a solo women is magnified by the realization that others are stymied by your presence. So far the food I have been served is as if I were a table of two and it has been apportioned as such, but I barely make a dent as I have seen the main course float by and I am afraid. When it arrives I am overwhelmed by the amount. I am looking at six slices of turkey breast, six slices of fruit stuffed roast pork, a heap of chorizo stuffing, a giant wallop of mashed potatoes all smothered in a rich brown gravy. I must say straight off that it is delicious. I pair it with a nice Argentian Red and couldn't have been happier. I think the hosts, Christina and Ali are a bit dismayed that I don't finish all of it and also forego the six inch tall wedge of cake for dessert.
I take my glass of wine and sit on the edge of the pool with my feet dangling in the water, listen to the music and just let the ambiance envelop me.
The musicians take a break but my ears perk up when I hear Billy mention Gypsy Jazz. I go over to the table and strike up a conversation. There is another couple and a lone guy sitting with him. I join them and introductions are made all around. The lone guy is Joss, who turns out to be a Dutch party boy from way back who lives on the Island of Ibiza. He regales me with crazy celebrity stories from the 70's and shamelessly name drops but he is fun to be around and three of us continue the night at Billy's who lives right around the corner. Interesting guy is our Billy. He is amazingly geeky, the kind of guy who wears his sweat pants and fanny pack up around his armpits. His house is right on the beach and one wall is used to store a line of guitars, banjos and mandolins. A copy of the painting 'The Musicians' by Botero takes up a good portion of another wall. It is definitely a guy pad but in an unusual way. We drink wine and yak until 3:00am or so when I go back to my bed, but I don't sleep in and instead get up and while away Christmas morning people watching with a good cup of latte and a crusty baquette on a tree covered patio.
I am on the bus to Colima which in this case is like a ride on the Scrambler at the PNE as the driver speeds into the curves at Mach 3. Colima has the unenviable position in the landscape as to be basking in the shadow of two volcanoes and is prone to earthquakes.
I check into room #111 of the 'Hotel Buena Adventura'. A basic room but none too clean as there is what I am sure is a dried pee dribble down one wall. There are two pillows, one filled with chunks of foam rubber and one whose former life was first base at a ball park.
Colima itself is a cute town of roughly 150k people with the principal square a lovely shady place to sit and people watch. There is a nice patio in front of the Hotel Ceballos which is actually a Best Western of all things. I sit here now with a cervaza and free salted peanuts and fresh limes. The guy sitting at the next table is reading a book by Graham E. Fuller titled 'A World Without Islam'. I wander around and get a feel for the place, have a bite to eat and head back to my room around 9:00 pm.
I have stripped to my underwear and am lying splayed across the bed searching for an English speaking channel on the TV when a god awful sound like a tortured animal echos through the stairwell. I go rigid and make eye contact with my pants. There are more tortured sounds then an English voice saying 'GET AWAY FROM ME!'. That ends that episode and I think 'what the hell was that all about, and who is this gringo?' Surprisingly I sleep like a baby. The next night, late, I wake up to the same gringo yelling 'FUCKING BIRDS'. I wonder if he is a drug addict or mentally disturbed and is living in this room in Mexico and nobody even knows he's here. Empathy not being one of my strong suits, I don't want to stick around to find out so I check out in the morning like a bandito on the run with pistolas blazing into the back seat of a taxi. I had planned to go just a little north to a town called Comala but decide I want to get invisible in the city and head to Guadalajara.
I get a good look at the two volcanoes, one smoking as the bus heaves its way toward the other big smoke. The bus in packed but it is only a three hour drive and we pull into the bus depot in good time. There are the tin-can city buses out front and I hop on one and have a cheap site seeing tour for a $1.00. There are no pull cords to indicate you want to get off and I almost pass through the entire Centro Historico before I manage to wrestle me and my luggage to an exit door. I haven't decided on a hotel yet and end up picking the cheapest, closest one which is about eight blocks away. I wheel my luggage through what I think I may be gay town but the Hotel Don Quixote is a family affair and I check into room #11.
I do some research and the next morning I move to the more reasonably priced Casa Vilasanta which is about nine blocks from Centro Historico. I check into room #4. This is the first hotel other than the Casa Senorina in Barra de Navidad that actually feels Mexican. I dump my stuff and hit the streets back to the Centro and do touristy things like let my jaw hang slack as a bit player in 'Deliverance' at the majesty of the Cathedral, diligently tour the Regional Museum which is currently showing a fantastic photography exhibit taken during the Mexican Revolution. Some of the photos are pretty gruesome but I have noticed that the daily newspapers here almost always show a mutilated, mangled dead body on the front page, close up so you can see all the details. This is a very livable city of 7 million, made for people to mix and mingle. The streets are lined with orange trees and the buildings are no more than maybe ten stories at the most. Cars and buses bomb around but they just seem to blend into the rhythm.
I don't know how people make a living here or anywhere in Mexico for that matter. In one five block stretch there must be eight or ten eyeglass stores, fabric stores on every corner, shoe stores coming out the yin yang, carts selling virtually the same stuff every few feet, and food, food and more food. Small business chaotically run amuk.
There are a lot of chihuahuas wearing coat blankets and people wearing bubble coats, scarves and leather boots while I am in a lightweight T-shirt and sandals. I think this falls under the 'One mans __ is another mans__' category.
I have almost strolled back to my hotel but then take a small detour up the street. I come across a tiny pizza place almost like a cave and decide this is where I will have dinner. There is a lone male sitting at the next table who seems thrilled that I speak English and helps me with my order. He is Rodrigo Ruiz Garcia (an Engineer) and for the next couple of hours we drink a few beers and talk about Mexican politics, the drug wars, the Mexican Revolution, Mexican Independence, Canada/US relations and music. He invites me to join his face book before I leave.
Like every good citizen Rodrigo has directed me to an area of the city called Tlaquepaque which is where I head now. I decide to take the subway as it seems I can get close to it that way but as it turns out I have misinterpreted the map and find myself in the middle of nowhere and end up having to flag a taxi (the subway was fast and extremely clean).
So Tlaquepaque turns out to be pretty much Guadalajaras version of Gas Town in Vancouver and at one point I find myself cornered by a trio of Mariachis who I end up paying to play me a song. Guadalajara is the birthplace of Mariachi music and there are dusty trios dressed in black all over the place. I spend several hours here but find I enjoy the local food market better than the gentrified streets.
New Years Eve and day 1 of 2011
After a day of more site-seeing I stay in my room and work on my blog and turn out the light just as the fireworks and music and noise starts at midnight. Interestingly the two gay guys in the next room stay in and watch TV.
My stomach is feeling a little queasy today but I decide to chance it and once more go to Centro Historico. The streets are very quiet and hungover from last night and a lot of things are not open but the main square is hopping and I have a coffee and croissant at the cafe beside the Teatro Degollado. I wander around the plaza and hear a service in progress at the Templo de Santa Maria de Gracia, a church somewhat smaller than its name and enter through a side door. People are taking communion but it doesn't seem like a regular service. I sit in a pew for awhile but then this women starts singing 'Ave Maria' and butchers it into hamburger helper. She squawks and croaks like a fourteen year old boy and never hits one note. I have to stop myself from grimacing when someone mercifully pulls the plug. I step toward the back of the church and suddenly the recessional 'Wedding March' is being played and a couple are hurrying down the aisle with a rush of friends and family and I am caught up in the whirl being pushed out the door with the wedding party. I am sure I will be in a few albums as I literally was trying not to step on her dress (see photo - sorry its so bad but I was caught off guard).
It's official, I have the trots.
I will probably leave here tomorrow (if things solidify) and head for the city of Morelia.
Mas tarde mis amigos