Tag Archive: Guadalajara Mexico sightseeing


Gone full circle

Cajititlan Aztec ceremony 2012-02-02 04

The Jalisco villages of Cajititlan and San Juan Evangelista face each other across a couple of kilometers of lake, but on the day of my visit they’re also separated by 300 years of Mexican history.

I can’t take credit for planning this trip to Cajititlan on the Día de la Candelaria (Candlemas) but – as these photos show – the timing couldn’t have been more fortuitous.

Cajititlan Aztec ceremony 2012-02-02 01

 

Candlemas observes the Biblical presentation of the infant Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem 40 days after his birth, but here it’s also the last observance of the Christmas holiday season.

Figures of the baby Jesus first displayed in Nativity scenes on Christmas Eve are given presents from the Magi on el Día de los Reyes (King’s Day, January 6).

On the Día de la Candelaria (February 2) they’re dressed in fine clothes and presented at the church for blessing.  Family and friends also traditionally gather on this day to eat tamales.

Cajititlan Aztec ceremony 2012-02-02 02

In Mexico, this holiday is a follow-on to Kings’ Day, when children receive gifts and families and friends break share generous loaves of Rosca de Reyes, a special sweet bread with a figurine hidden inside.

Whoever finds the figurines in their portion must host a party on the Día de la Candelaria.

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We arrive in Cajititlan to find streets jammed with cars that surround blocks of the city center cordoned off for a great street festival.

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On the approach to the central plaza and the local parish church, the sound of drumbeats grows ever louder.

The narrow street opens suddenly onto the plaza, where at least 40 dancers in full Aztec ceremonial garb move about in intricately choreographed lines.

The costumes are elaborate and the pageantry is stunning. The dancers are men and women of all ages, and even a few children participate.

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As I draw closer I can hear faint strains of a violin, and in a moment see a fiddler walking among the dancers, an impresario guiding the procession toward the church.

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The church is packed as the procession makes its way up the central aisle toward the altar, the drums continuing their steady beat.

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Cajititlan Aztec ceremony 2012-02-02 10

Cajititlan Aztec ceremony 2012-02-02 11

It’s startling to see this spectacle of pagan-rooted pageantry occupy a place of Christian worship.

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As as the ceremony ends and the procession backs slowly down the aisle and back into the sun-washed plaza, though, its leader makes the sign of the cross and kisses his fingers.

I study the dancers more closely, and can see crosses hanging around the necks of many.

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Nearly 500 years after the Conquest, and 400 years after native artisans surreptitiously integrated icons of their native religion into the design of the church in nearby San Juan Evangelista, native tradition has re-emerged as such an integral part of mainstream Catholic ceremony in Mexico that it’s no longer possible to imagine one without the other.

Things have, indeed come full circle.


Read the 3 other posts about my trip around Lake Cajitlan:…

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Made-from-scratch tortillas on a wood-fired, clay comal

Made-from-scratch tortillas on a wood-fired, clay comal

No less than for county fairs north of the border there’s both a sameness to Mexican village fiestas and yet always some feature that uniquely ties each to a single place.

 

Cajititlan’s fiesta del Día de la Candelaria proves itself no exception.

 

As the ceremony on the plaza ends we plunge into a street fair which begins at its edge, lining the curbs of a dozen or more square blocks that slope gently down to the lake.

 

Canopied booths line both sides of the cobblestone streets and the crowd threads its way through the narrow passages between.

A young fathers cradles his infant son

A young fathers cradles his infant son

 

 

 

 

The crowd is a mix of villagers and day-trippers from nearby Guadalajara; I seem to be the only gringo within eyesight and the sense of total immersion is a refreshing break from gringi-fied Ajijic.

An artisan prepares to apply color to plaster masks

An artisan prepares to apply color to plaster masks

 

Market stalls feature the predictable mix of street food, artisan crafts, household items, bootleg CD’s and DVD’s, and clothing.

Diners sit family-style at long tables where women hand-form tortillas from masa ground on-the-spot using stone metates and grilled on clay comals over wood fires.

Tacos don’t get any fresher than this!

Roscas de Reyes, King's Day bread

Roscas de Reyes, King’s Day bread

 

 

 

The very last of the Roscas de Reyes – the King’s Day sweet bread – sit forlorn on a baker’s rack in their final day-old sale of the year.

A street vendor cooks unshelled garbanzo beans

A street vendor cooks unshelled garbanzo beans

 

We pass a centuries-old building that once housed a convent.  It’s closed to the public on this holiday, but I make a mental note to see it on a future visit.

 

 

 

A street vendor cooks bright, unshelled garbanzo beans over a gas-fired griddle.

I buy a small bag and pop the steaming beans free of their pods, eating them by handfuls.  Delicious!

Corn roasts over glowing embers curbside.

 

Freshly roasted corn cool on a curbside grill

Freshly roasted corn cool on a curbside grill

 

Under expansive canopies pitched in the soft breeze along the malecon at the water’s edge, a guitarist strolls among families singing ranchera as his listeners share the season’s traditional tamales.

Families share tamales under a canopy along the malecon

Families share tamales under a canopy along the malecon

Weekenders depart from the pier on Cajititlan's malecon

Weekenders depart from the pier on Cajititlan’s malecon

 

 

At the pier along the malecon families board small launches for leisurely cruises on the lake.

A musician plays for the crowd on Cajititlan's malecon

A musician plays for the crowd on Cajititlan’s malecon

Nearby a musician absently fingers the keyboard of his accordion, squeezing out tunes so often played that his fingers move unthinkingly over the buttons and keys.

Parish church on the plaza in Cajititlan

Parish church on the plaza in Cajititlan

I can’t help but smile in satisfaction as we retrace our steps to my parked car, passing the now deserted plaza.

This fiesta has been a perfect ending to a perfect day spent driving the villages around Lake Cajititlan.

The bright lights of cosmopolitan Guadalajara are but 30 minutes’ drive away, but here in the country villages along the lake traditional Mexico is alive and well.


Read other posts about my trip around Lake Cajititlan:…

Glorieta Chapalita 02

Some of Guadalajara’s most memorable public art, like its monumental Minerva Fountain and the Niños Héroes statuary, are centerpieces for its traffic circles (glorietas).

Glorieta Chapalita 06

In the Colonia Chapalita, the glorieta appears as far more intimate public space at Chapalita Circle, a delightful pocket park that covers the space of a small city block.

Glorieta Chapalita 04

Glorieta Chapalita 05

Here seven streets intersect at the edge of a quiet and well-established residential neighborhood.

This glorieta is a verdant urban oasis of wrought iron benches painted immaculate white and nestled among fountains, beds of roses, and human scale statues.

At its center stands a classic gazebo.

Glorieta Chapalita 01

Palm trees tower above, and rows of Italian cypress screen much of it from the sights and sounds of circling traffic.

Glorieta Chapalita 03

In some spots only the top of the 42-story Hotel Riu, a kilometer distant, reminds that this place is not far from the heart of the city.

Glorieta Chapalita 08

On a typical Saturday visitors here might include pets and their owners, couples, and parents with young children.

On Sundays, though, it’s transformed into an open-air art gallery where artists display their canvases on easels and park benches.

Glorieta Chapalita 09

Glorieta Chapalita 10

Theme, genre, and scale varies, although on the day of my visit there were lots of contemporary pieces.

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It’s not uncommon to see some paint as they pass the time, and most are more than glad to chat with browsers about their work and their artistic journey.

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This art show pairs very well with a brunch before strolling through the art, or lunch or dinner after.

The restaurants facing the glorieta are but a few of the dozens within blocks, so you can park once and take in the entire day’s experience on foot.

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These eateries range from upscale to fast casual.

You can top off your meal with a cappuccino from a nearby café or pastry dessert from a neighborhood repostería.

Find out more on the Glorieta Chapalita’s web site.

For the more ambitious visitor, a Sunday at Chapalita Circle fits well into a day including a promenade on the Avenida Vallarta,or a visit to Guadalajara’s open-air antique market.

You may also want to check out also these posts for more things to see and do in Guadalajara:

 

Santa Teresita parish church, Guadalajara

Santa Teresita parish church, Guadalajara

What happens when the village street bazaar goes urban?  In Guadalajara the answer is ‘the Santa Teresita street market’… a tianguis.

There’s certainly no lack of ‘big box’ grocers in Guadalajara, and permanent market bazaars like the city’s Mercado Libertad serve up a homogenized version of weekly street markets throughout the week… but there’s nothing like the real deal!

Mother & child, Santa Teresita market, Guadalajara

Mother & child, Santa Teresita market, Guadalajara

 

Located on the city’s near north side at the intersection of Pedro Buzeta y Ramos Millán (about halfway between the Avenidas Del Federalismo and De Las Americas), the market takes its name from the parish church of the same name that sits at its center like a grand dame surrounded by her court.

The scope of this place is staggering.  Streets are blocked off and merchants pitch tents, set up tables, or spread merchandise on blankets curbside for something like 20 square blocks.  Market stalls crowd the church so closely that they seemed poised to climb its steps.

Young couple, Santa Teresita market, Guadalajara

Young couple, Santa Teresita market, Guadalajara

As I stand here on a Sunday morning it almost defies belief to realize that cars plied these streets on Friday afternoon, and will again come Monday morning; this entire market is a moveable feast.

This is a working class neighborhood market, short on art and crafts and long on staples from fresh produce and kitchen utensils to baby diapers and DVD’s.

This market affords a great opportunity to see a cross-section of urban Mexico in its own element; tourists are rare within the throngs threading their way along the narrowed streets.

Bicycle bakery, Santa Teresita market, Guadalajara

Bicycle bakery, Santa Teresita market, Guadalajara

There’s an energy level here that’s harder to find in the country markets.  Porters carry merchandise on their shoulders through the crowds or wheel them about on hand trucks and other makeshift contraptions.

A giant tray of pastries edges past me waist-high, propelled by a man on a three-wheeled bicycle.

Clothes on wheels, Santa Teresita market, Guadalajara

Clothes on wheels, Santa Teresita market, Guadalajara

A woman pushes a cart full of hangered clothing down the lane toward her stall, and for a moment the same image from long ago in Manhattan’s garment district comes to mind.

A vendor fishes a freshly fried churro from sizzling hot oil. When eaten fresh out of the fryer these are so good that you can skip the dusting of sugar or cinnamon!

Hot churros, Santa Teresita market, Guadalajara

Hot churros, Santa Teresita market, Guadalajara

A tejuino vendor of blends a thick mixture of boiled masa, water and piloncillo sugar with freshly squeezed jugo de limón, salt, water, ice, and adds a big scoop of lemon sherbet. The refreshing drink is as native to Jalisco as its famous birria goat stew.

Tejuino vendor, Santa Teresita market, Guadalajara

Tejuino vendor, Santa Teresita market, Guadalajara

For me this market is far more about urban culture than shopping, so I extend the experience by arriving and leaving on foot, making my way through city neighborhoods on this mellow Sunday afternoon.

Santa Teresita may be a destination in its own right, but it fits well into a larger Guadalajara Sunday afternoon itinerary.

If you’re not shopped out by Santa Teresita, drop in on Guadalajara’s nearby Sunday antique street market for a totally different street shopping experience.

The Santa Teresita market is also healthy walk or short taxi ride from the Centro Historico, or to the Avenida Vallarta’s Sunday promenade, which is as worthwhile a sidewalk cafe sight as an urban walk.

Dias de los muertos

Peace catrina, Guadalajara, Mexico

It’s about this time each year that I lament the creeping encroachment of America’s shallowly commercial Halloween tradition upon Mexico’s deeply spiritual Dia de Los Muertos observance.

Peace catrina, Guadalajara, Mexico

In the States, trick-or-treat decorations may have been replaced by Christmas decorations and candy now relegated to discount bins, but a month-long event in Guadalajara’s Centro Historico proves that Dia de los Muertos is not only alive and well, but ably adapting to fit itself into the twenty-first century.

Peace catrinas, Guadalajara, Mexico

Peace catrina, Guadalajara, Mexico

 

 

 

For the third consecutive year, Guadalajara’s secondary school students have built upon the traditional image of the catrina – the elaborately decorated skeletons that are the holiday’s trademark – to make a timely plea for peace.

Peace catrina, Guadalajara, Mexico

Around 100 of these larger-than-life-sized installations can be seen on the plazas that mark each of the primary compass points around Guadalajara’s signature downtown Catedral.

Peace catrina, Guadalajara, Mexico

The work is remarkable not only because it ably links Mexico’s past with its present and because the artisanship is of such high quality, but because it demonstrates these young artists’ surprisingly mature grasp of how violence begins and spreads through a culture.

Peace catrina, Guadalajara, Mexico

For Mexicans, peace is not an abstract ideal or a wished-for outcome in some far-off country, but a heartfelt hope for change in their everyday existence.

Peace catrina, Guadalajara, Mexico

Peace catrina, Guadalajara, Mexico

In this fifth year of the government’s war on narcotics traffic and narco-terrorism, fatalities have now passed the 50,000 mark. While the violence is largely confined to combatants and limited to a small part of the country, only a few degrees of separation lie between the casualties and an increasing number of civilians.

The theme of peace in the face of such violence necessarily lends a somber note to many of these works, but most of them still manage to deliver their weighty message with the same wry fatalism that has always marked the catrina tradition.

Peace catrina, Guadalajara, Mexico

Photos don’t do these catrinas justice.  Almost all of the standing figures tower over the spectator by a foot or two, and many others lean lifelike against poles and fences or sit on park benches as city pedestrians and traffic stream past.

Peace catrina, Guadalajara, Mexico

There are several Gandhi catrinas and one of the Dalai Lama, but it’s the more traditional images which are often the most compelling.

Peace catrina, Guadalajara, Mexico

While catrinas are an expression of pre-Colombian concepts of the relationship between life and death, the catrina image itself is barely a century old, the invention of a Mexico City newspaper’s political cartoonist.

Peace catrina, Guadalajara, Mexico

The catrina was nearly relegated to history until rescued by the resurgence of pride in Mexican heritage following the Mexican Revolution.

Peace catrina, Guadalajara, Mexico

Like Argentina’s tango, it began as a working-class tradition and grew in less than a generation to become a symbol inextricably woven into the national identity.

It’s possible to walk all 100 or so of Guadalajara’s Catrinas de la Paz in less than an hour, but you may – like me – become caught up in reflection upon one or another that particularly speaks to you and linger longer.

Whether you browse this exhibit quickly or deliberately, don’t pass it up!

Guadalajara’s antique market

Antique markets afford a window into the lives of each treasure’s original owner, and Guadalajara’s antique flea market is loaded with artifacts that look like they once graced the drawing rooms of the gentrified west side neighborhoods built around the turn of the 20th century.

Guadalajara’s antique market

 

 

 

 

 

Held on Sundays from 9AM-5PM at the intersection of the Avenida Mexico and Chapultepec Norte in front of the Bodega Aurrera, this outdoor market unwinds over several blocks and the scope of the collection is mind-boggling.

Guadalajara’s antique market

 

 

 

 

The stalls are chock full of collectibles from statuary to silver and crystal, furniture, and books and records.

Guadalajara’s antique market

There are also plenty of personal items and memorabilia that often leave the shopper with the sense that the aura of their original owners is somehow still present among them.

If you’re expecting a flea market that requires you to sort through a ton of junk to find a few gems, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this place.

Guadalajara’s antique market

Much of the merchandise appears to be in museum piece condition, and it’s clear that the vendors know their artifacts intimately and take great pride in their displays.

Guadalajara’s antique market

Here you’re stopped by an item caught out of the corner of an eye and find yourself still browsing the same stall half an hour later, unraveling threads into the past.

Guadalajara’s antique market

This market, though, is not just a window into Guadalajara’s past, but also a snapshot of its present.

Guadalajara’s antique market

The vendors are of all ages, and it’s clear that these folks have come to know each other well over years of Sundays spent here together.

Guadalajara’s antique market

 

 

 

 

The shoppers are also diverse, but the crowd includes a healthy mix of young urban professionals that the visitor is unlikely to encounter at the city’s more classic tourist sites.

Guadalajara’s antique market

You don’t have to be a collector to appreciate this place, and you don’t have to buy a thing to have an enjoyable day here.

Avenida Chaputepec

Afterwards take a walk down Chapultepec and join the Sunday promenade always in progress on a traffic-free Avenida Vallarta.

See my related posts:

Guadalajara’s Abastos

There’s no better way to get a crash course on any culture than from watching the street theater of buyers and sellers as they shop and haggle in an open market. If Guadalajara’s Mercado Libertad is the Wal-Mart of mercados, then Guadalajara’s Abastos is the Trader Joe’s.

Here you expect great prices as much as you expect best quality merchandise and items that you just can’t buy anywhere else.

Sign outside Abastos

As I enter I see covering the entire side of an adjacent building a faded sign. I can’t help but think about the many stories that must certainly have unfolded beneath it.

The midway

It’s hard to tell where Abastos ends, because its warehouses and shops cover more than 30 city blocks.

 

The intersection of Lazaro Cardenas and Mariano Otero is a good place to begin.

Within eyesight is a parking garage which offers a view of the area that can give you a much-needed lay of the land before you plunge in.

The Foodie in me can’t help but be impressed by the fact that this is where the pros in the restaurant and grocery businesses come to shop… and that it’s also open to the public!

Pick o’ the crops

The heart of Abastos is its aisles lined with booths selling fresh produce, meats, and seafood, but in adjacent shops it’s possible to outfit an entire restaurant from tables and chairs to china, flatware, uniforms, and kitchen hardware.

Squash blossoms

 

The produce is, well, almost too beautiful to eat.

Brilliantly colored and symmetrically shaped, it’s too perfect for a still-life.

Everything here is offered in the giant commercial size. Meatcutters disassemble entire cows.

Major meatcutting

Ribbons of sausage

There are cheese wheels the size of spare tires and sweets the size of paving bricks.

Monster cheese wheels

Sweets by the case

 

Never, though, did I see a merchant refuse to sell a smaller quantity.

Acres of grilled chicken

 

This city-within-a-city needs to be fed, and while the eateries are not fancy you can find just about any kind of meal you desire somewhere in one of its pots or on its grills.

Abasto fresh fish

 

I snap a shot of some great-looking fish on ice and amble slowly down the aisle only to be halted by the sound of someone calling out behind me.

Fish and fishmongers

 

I turn to find that the fishmongers are following me down the corridor hauling a whale of a fish, inviting me to get a better shot. That’s the kind of place it is.

 

When you come, drive a big SUV and bring the largest ice chest you can find, because there’s no way you’ll leave here empty-handed!

To get to the Abastos from the Ribera de Chapala:

 

  • From the Chapala highway exit left on Lazaro Cardenas and drive about 7 kilometers. Abastos is on the left just before the intersection with Mariano Otero.
  • From the Jocotopec highway turn right off Lopez Mateo at Plaza del Sol onto Mariano Otero until you find the Abastos on your right, just before the intersection with Cardenas.

    See also my related posts:Fishy in GuadalajaraGuadalajara’s Mercado Libertad

    Avenida Vallarta on Sundays

    The Avenida Vallarta is arguably Guadalajara’s signature boulevard, cutting through the west side to expose a time-stamped cross-section of the city.

    From its starting point at Avenida Juarez and Del Federalismo (there’s a subway station there) to the Minerva Fountain is about four miles, and there’s no better day – or way – to see it than Sundays, when it’s closed to vehicular traffic and given over to bicyclists, joggers, and walkers.

    On the Avenida Vallarta

    In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s Avenida Vallarta was a residential boulevard lined with the

    On the Avenida Vallarta

    elegant townhomes of Guadalajara’s well-to-do, and many of these structures still remain.

    My plan is to travel the avenida east to west, beginning with the smaller, older homes that become progressively newer and larger as I go.

    I start with the public architecture near the intersection of Avenida Enrique Diaz de Leon.

     

    Templo Expiatorio, Guadalajara

     

    University of Guadalajara

    A block away on Lopez Cotilla stands the Templo Expiatorio and not much further on Vallarta the old University of Guadalajara.

    On the Avenida Vallarta

    Many of the grand old homes have been converted into restaurants.

    If you’re not inclined to walk, run, or cycle you can pick out one with curbside dining and people-watch the passing promenade.

    On the Avenida Vallarta

    On the Avenida Vallarta

    Chai restaurant, Guadalajara

    Restaurants are plentiful along the route, and most have menus posted.

    Chai restaurant, Guadalajara

    Chai is a favorite of mine for a great latté, but the place also serves a Sunday buffet brunch that always draws a crowd, so it’s a good idea to grab a table early.

    On the Avenida Vallarta

    In one stretch of the avenida the old homes are now occupied by shops featuring bridal and quinceañera gowns.

    Centro Magno shopping mall, Guadalajara

    As the route nears its end it passes the Centro Magno urban mall (there’s a large and inexpensive parking garage there), which is full of specialty shops and restaurants.

    Minerva Fountain, Guadalajara

    The Sunday promenade ends at Los Arcos, on the back side of the Minerva Fountain.

    Los Arcos, Guadalajara

    The Los Arcos double arches were built in in 1942 to commemorate the city’s 400th anniversary. The arches clear 14 feet high and stand on the avenida just before the Minerva Fountain glorieta.

    Los Arcos, Guadalajara

    See my related posts on Guadalajara:Guadalajara south centro

    Fishy in Guadalajara

    Guadalajara’s heartbeat

    Guadalajara’s Merado Libertad

    Fish market in Zapopan, Guadalajara

    The half day drive to Puerto Vallarta or Manzanillo puts the bounty of the Pacific Ocean within easy reach of Guadalajara, and nowhere is this abundance as evident as at the Mercado del Mar in the Zapopan section.

    Fish market in Zapopan, Guadalajara

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Here restaurant chefs and housewives browse more than a city block of pescaderias and seafood restaurants that compare well with anything to be found in Boston or San Francisco… except for the price!

    Fish market in Zapopan, Guadalajara

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    As at any fresh seafood market, the best picks are available early in the morning, but shops are still well-stocked when I arrive before noon.

    Fish market in Zapopan, Guadalajara

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    There are nearly 50 seafood vendors and half a dozen seafood restaurants from which to choose, and sifting through the choices is at least half the fun.

     

     

    There are plenty of fish that shoppers from north of the border will recognize even if their Mexican names are unfamiliar, but there are also plenty of local varieties that beg to be tasted.

    Fish market in Zapopan, Guadalajara

     

     

     

     

    There’s not much English spoken here, but most of the shop owners will gladly explain their products at the slightest prompting.

    Fish market in Zapopan, Guadalajara

    Fish market in Zapopan, Guadalajara

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The breadth of selection is staggering, and there seems to be something in almost every color of the rainbow.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Fishmongers expertly carve out filets and deftly shuck oysters.

     

    Fish market in Zapopan, Guadalajara

    Fish market in Zapopan, Guadalajara

     

     

    The ceviche is about as good and fresh as any you’ll find anywhere without a beach in sight.

     

    Get there from the Periferico on the northwest side.  Exit Avenida Los Laureles toward the city and drive less than two miles to its intersection with Avenida Piño Suarez.  The market is two blocks to the left.

     

    Remember to take an ice chest.  In fact, remember to take two, because some of the best stuff is not even on your shopping list!

     

    Mercado del Mar has a web site which lists all of the seafood shops and restaurants (go to the Locatarios page), and as you scroll over each name more information – including individual web sites for many merchants – displays in the lower right hand corner. http://www.mercadodelmar.com/

    Fish market in Zapopan, Guadalajara

     

    If you’re uncomfortable with Guadalajara traffic, one of the Mercado del Mar merchants has opened a location just west of Ajijic on the Carretera  in the Plaza La Huerta.  I’ve found it to be among the best at Lakeside.

     

    Buen provecho!

     

    For more about the Guadalajara open market experience, see my related post Guadalajara’s Mercado Libertad

    I’ve just completed my tenth round trip between Dallas and Guadalajara by bus.  At the end of each trip, tactful friends on both sides of the border question me about the experience with a combination of curiosity and skepticism.

    Greyhound bus terminal, Dallas, TX

    Tactless friends question my sanity.  After all, the driving distance – which varies depending upon the route taken – runs around 1,100 miles (about the same distance as driving from Dallas to Phoenix, Detroit, or Jacksonville).  By private auto the trip takes a bit over 20 hours.  By bus with occasional station stops it takes a little over 26 hours.

    Greyhound bus terminal, Dallas, TX

    There are otherwise some really good reasons to travel to Mexico by bus…

    Mexico “gets” bus service.  There’s almost no passenger rail service in Mexico and outside of major population centers economics don’t lend themselves to air service a la Southwest Airlines.  The result is that Mexico – as in many other countries I’ve travelled – has refined bus travel to an art.  (See my related post on bus travel in Argentina.)

    Border crossing, Laredo, TX (U.S. side)

    It’s a rich experience.  Bus travel affords an opportunity to see the Mexico – and meet the Mexican people – inaccessible for air travelers.  Even after ten trips I still see something missed on an earlier trip, and I always make new acquaintances.  The route takes me through cities including Monterey, Saltillo, Zacatecas, and Aguascalientes, and since I’m not driving I have every chance to enjoy the views.

    It’s comfortable.  In Mexico – as in much of the world outside of the U.S. – bus travel is the transportation of choice, and first class bus seating and service is on par with transatlantic airline business class.  Busses have their own dedicated lines for Customs and Immigration on both sides of the border, and often clear inspection more quickly than the long lines of passenger cars… particularly during rush hours.  There’s a restroom on the bus, and a rest stop with limited foodservice and more restrooms on an average of every 2-3 hours.

    Rio Grande from the Lincoln-Juarez bridge, Laredo, TX

    It’s convenient.  I book my trip with Greyhound and its Mexican affiliate Americanos, buy my ticket online with a credit card, and receive it by mail.  I’m even enrolled in Greyhound’s Road Rewards frequent traveler program… which earns me further travel discounts.

    From Mexican Immigration & Customs, Nuevo Laredo

    While air travel requires an hour of travel and car parking and another hour for security screening, I’m routinely on the bus in Dallas within an hour of leaving my home.  If you become bored with the passengers or the scenery, crack open that new novel you’ve been meaning to read or listen to your MP3 player.  I get lots of writing done on the bus.

    Two bus drivers kibbitz while their busses await their turn for inspection.

    Bus travel to and from Mexico is incredibly economical.  My round trip bus fare costs about one-third of the cheapest Dallas-to-Guadalajara airline ticket… and actually less than the cost of auto tolls alone for the same trip on Mexico’s excellent system of toll roads (the cuotas)… not to mention the cost of gasoline.

    Outside the bus terminal, Nuevo Laredo, Mexico

    Since there’s no overnight stay on the bus route – the bus changes drivers, but rolls right on through the night – there’s also no hotel expense.  While there’s a modest charge for extra luggage checked on trips originating in the States, there seems to be no such restriction for trips originating in Mexico.  Greyhound charges for ticket changes in the States, but a bus ticket in Mexico can be used at any time within 6 months of issue with no charge for schedule changes between the original ticket destinations.

    Inside the bus on the Mexican side

    It’s safer.  I view the risk of violence to Americans traveling in Mexico as grossly overstated by both the U.S. media and the State Department.  Particularly between dusk and dawn the risk of hitting stray livestock or pedestrians increases, and if you’re involved in a accident that causes injury or fatality you will go directly to jail until blame is sorted out… and much of what you’ve heard about Mexican jails is probably true.

     

    There are two drawbacks to Greyhound/Americanos.  One is that while busses on the Mexican legs of the trip have spacious seats, plenty of leg room, and video, the Stateside busses are about as (un) comfortably cramped as traveling in airline economy class.  The other is that the trip on Greyhound/Americanos requires anywhere from 2 to 4 bus changes, and while I’ve never arrived late or missed a connection within the Mexican legs of the trip the same cannot be said for the Stateside legs.

    Central Nueva bus terminal, Guadalajara, Mexico

    For a bit more than the cost of Greyhound/Americanos, travelers can instead book with one of several Mexican bus lines that require no bus changes from U.S. destinations and depart from locations as far-flung as Florida, Tennessee, the Carolinas, and Illinois.  These carriers cater to Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, cost a bit more than the Greyhound option, and typically locate their U.S. terminals in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods.  Just a few are Omnibuses de Mexico, Turimex, El Tornado, and El Conejo.

    Central Nueva bus terminal, Guadalajara, Mexico

    Bottom line:  Bus travel to/from Mexico is not for everyone, but if you have a spirit of adventure that craves more than a sanitized Epcot Center experience, it’s something you should do… at least once!