We rushed into Guadalajara in the late afternoon to get to the tourist information office before it shut. Edd dropped me off and circled the block while I ran in and asked for as much information as I could, namely about the city’s annual Fiestas de Octubre and naturally, Day of the Dead.
We parked in a public parking lot, which was our home for the next week and a half. We found it on the iOverlander app. It wasn’t pretty, but it was safe, the employees Raúl and Manuel werenice, and it was in a pretty cool part of town.
All around the block were trendy patio-style, lights-on-a-string restaurants, all serving everything but traditional Mexican. Many were filled with college students (how do they afford it?).
We had pizzas at a joint called Sibarito. One with huitlacoche, a fermented corn fungus that you can usually find next to the mushrooms in the market. It was like a sweet chutney. Mexican-Italian fusion: we were definitely joining the cool crowd.
We cycled into the center using the few but wonderful bike lanes.
In the Plaza de la Liberación, there was a sculpture competition, El Concurso de Labrado Cantera y Lapidario. It was part of the Fiestas de Octubre. We spent some time admiring the physical and artistic ability of the stone carvers, who were all working under pop-up shades.
One artist was in the middle of chiseling teeth on a detailed statue of a catrina, the lovable skeletons dressed in Victorian haute-couture, originally sketched by the Mexican artist Posada. I complimented him on how different it was from the other sculptures, which overall seemed either religious or geometric. He responded by saying, “Well, every artist is unique!”
Then I realized that the other guy sitting in the tent was not a friend of his, but a competing artist sharing that tent space. I quickly looked at his sculpture to give him a compliment too, but his was more ambiguous.
“Wow! It’s beautiful! Is it… a table?” I asked.
“It’s a window,” he said, unimpressed. Sometimes I really put my foot in it.
On the other end of the same plaza, a man named Centenario Villa was rapping over a portable PA system. Half of his face was covered in tattoos, but he was super nice, and we really enjoyed his rhymes, rolas, and Edd sort of got his wish of seeing a Spanish-language rap concert. I was too shy to get a selfie with him as others were doing, but we bought his CD instead!
That afternoon, the Day of the Dead festivities began with a parade next to the cathedral. The paraders were all made up as catrinas, some silly, some somber. There were dancers, kids, cars, carriages and of course, hearses.
Later, there was a free concert near the Rotonda de Jaliscienses Ilustres by the group Los Cadetes de Linares. We didn’t know of them, but everyone else sang along, especially when it came to the explicit line “Chinga su madre!” It was all in good fun.
We went to the tianguis, the street market, in the neighborhood of Tonalá. The bus dropped us off at the foot of Tonaltecas Street, whose sidewalks and the ones around it were lined with hundreds of stalls.
We clambered through the tiny tent alleys of crafts and household goods, and stopped occasionally to nibble on interesting things. We even tried a cup full of salted dried fish called charol, which the woman said was an aphrodisiac. Edd munched on them with gusto.
Our favorite snack was nieve (snow), a word they use here to refer to anything from ice cream to sorbet, but in this case was shaved ice layered with fresh juice and fruits. It tasted as gorgeous as it looked.
We dined at a huge packed seafood restaurant called Mariscos Arendenses. A mariachi group played several songs for a table in the corner. The three violins were sweetly out of tune. I don’t think I could ever get tired of drunken meals accompanied by mariachi music.
At night, the bus ride back gave us a glimpse of the lifestyle just beyond the city center. The streets were quiet and dimly lit and some didn’t look very safe.
But if you saw a glowing light on a block as the bus approached, it meant someone’s door was open to the street, and you could get a fleeting peek into their lives. We saw people having family dinners, birthday parties, and prayer meetings.
Then at times, horses trotted alongside the bus. They carried men and boys, all wearing cowboy hats and acting very gentlemanly. It gave me a pang of nostalgia for a time or place I never lived in.
We went into town but the museums were closed (dope!) so we visited the Cathedral and the San Juan de Dios market. Both places were a mix of pleasant and creepy.
The cathedral, because it had colorful stained glass and huge arches, but also a mannequin dressed as a 17th century child martyr named Santa Inocencia, with her original zombie-like finger bones–err, relics–jutting out of her dress sleeves.
The market, because, well eating at markets is fun and awesome and cheap, but just outside were a dozen sleazeballs selling stolen phones and some very agressive beggars.
Back at our parking lot home, we asked Raúl if he knew a place where we could empty the camper’s gray and black tanks. He showed us a drain inside the car park lot which led to the city sewer.
So Edd backed up, hooked up our sewer hose, and aimed it down the drain. He opened the black tank (this time it was luckily just full of pee).
It was flowing into the drain when Manuel ran over and yelled, “Stop! That drain only goes to the street on the other side of the fence!” It was meant for storm drainage. So three days of our pee had gushed out into the street. Fuck… and yuck.
He showed us another drain which did lead to the sewer system. After we had dumped properly, I had to go pour water over the first area to wash everything away. I think Raúl got a little talking to.
We finally made it to the Instituto Cultural de Cabañas —free on Tuesdays! Their walls contain some fifty-some relatively serious murals by a Jalisco-born painter named José Clemente Orozco. Most are together in the former on-site chapel, and have quite heavy socio-historical themes.
The museum offers free guided explanations on the murals, so we joined a bilingual group to get help deciphering them.
But our guide was really silly and fond of making movie references. “And here are the natives sacrificing their victims. Have you seen Apocalypto? Well, ya está! There you have it! And here Orozco painted the future! Have you seen Guerra de Las Galaxias? Star Wars? There you have it!”
We spent a while looking at the paintings on our own. The building was a former Spanish-built orphanage, so that added to the mystery.
As it was Halloween, we “treated” ourselves to beers and fish and chips at the British-themed York Pub on Chapultepec, and walked home happy.
We spent two hours in the Palacio de Gobierno looking at and reading about Orozco’s other incredible murals, completed in the late 1930s.
The most famous is a three-part mural with Miguel Hidalgo, the “father of Mexico”, in the center. He has a trance-like face and a torch and looks like he is leading the people in the fight against totalitarianism. One side symbolizes the church and its ties to the military. On the other side were political “clowns” who represented fascism, communism, and socialism.
A man who worked in the building came down the stairs and played a little game of “I Spy” with us, asking us if we could find find Marx, Lenin, and Tito.
He doubted Hidalgo’s intentions. His theory stemmed with the fact that Father Hidalgo was a criollo–a person born in Mexico to Spanish parents—which meant that he could never rule. He wanted to lead the people against Spain so he could gain power.
We overheard other people discussing their own interpretations, but I think everyone could agree that Orozco’s art was far from boring, maybe because they contain messages for today.
Tlaquepaque is the “artsy” neighborhood southeast of the center. And what better time to go there than for another Día de Muertos parade? This one was just for skeleton brides, novias catrinas.
We took the wrong (long) bus ride there but forgot our exhaustion when we finally got to Juárez Street. The atmosphere was great. Different groups and business had made their own altars. Several were dedicated to celebrities like Juan Gabriel, Pedro Infante, and Frida Kahlo. We even saw one for Freddy Mercury.
For us, the best were the more personal altars, to people who we would never have known about. One altar in the public market was dedicated to all of the deceased vendors. Next to each portrait was the name and location of their market stalls. It really helped you to imagine them there.
The parade was a pain because of the crowds. I fought for a space among spectators on tiny Morelos street, but Edd got tired and went and sat in the bar. I should have joined him. I stood on my tiptoes the whole time. And because of the gridlock, we missed half of the homemade fireworks in the plaza.
It was a gorgeous night but we’d had enough of the crowds (i.e., we’re too old) and got an Uber back.
We dropped our sheet set off at the laundromat to be washed. Normally we wash our clothes ourselves, but we were in a hurry to get to a couple of museums we hadn’t seen yet!
The Museo Regional had a lot of cool displays but not the funding. One room, with paraphernalia from modern Jalisco history, was supposed to be open, but the door was closed. One woman said that Jaime, who normally watches that room, probably just went out to lunch without telling anyone. Geez.
Anyway, she accompanied us, and we were glad we were so persistent. We read about the short-lived French occupation in the 1860s and the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz.
The Museo de Arte Sacro is on the backside of the cathedral, and the receptionist told us to go to the rooftop to get a cool view. We made our way down from there. The dark museum had loads of gold chalices, robes and relics.
One interesting thing was the Ex Votos. These were a series of folk paintings from the turn of the last century, each depicting a supposedly horrifying but true event in which the protagonist pleaded with God for help. For example, there was one of a wild dog chomping into the leg of Doña Carmen’s daughter. And then in the middle of all the paintings was a crucified Jesus.
When we went to make the bed that night, we were one pillowcase short. We had dropped off four items at the laundromat, all of them identical. How was it possible? Uggh.
I went to the laundromat to check if the woman there had left the pillowcase out by accident. We figured it couldn’t have gone far.
She admitted that she had dried our sheets with some of the owner’s own clothes, so it was probably mixed up with that stuff. Silly her! But the owner wouldn’t be home all day. Of course the laundromat would be closed on Sunday, but she told us to try knocking on the owner’s door.
We had prepared to leave later that morning, but the pillowcase predicament prompted us to stay and enjoy the busy weekend in the city. Guess we didn’t need much of an excuse to eat ribs and drink artisanal beer near Chapultepec Street.
We knocked on the laundromat owner’s door. She yelled, “Who is it?” I tried to be cheerful, and said, Good morning, I came to get the pillowcase.
“I don’t have your pillowcase.” She barked.
The old woman opened the door, looked me straight in the eye and said, “I can’t be bothered with you right now. I have somewhere more important to be and I don’t have your pillowcase.”
And like that, she walked off. Edd and I turned to each other with our mouths wide open.
Anyway, we managed to bike off all the negativity by cycling for two hours on the the city’s “Vía Recreativa”. The city shuts down a few big roads every Sunday from 8-2 so people can cycle, walk and skate without traffic. It was wonderful.
Then we went to the cinema and saw Thor: Ragnarok over a big bucket of cheese popcorn.
Back at the laundromat I asked the first woman nicely for the money back which she had charged for her laundry service. She gladly obliged.
Then she let it slip that maybe she put the pillowcase in someone else’s bag. But not to worry, people here are very nice and they will return it when they see it. And when they did, she would hold onto it until we came back.
She was telling the truth about one thing. People in Guadalajara were an all-round really nice bunch. We said goodbye to the parking lot attendants, thanking Raúl for being very patient and kind to us. He said, “Shouldn’t we always be that way?”
We loved spending Day of the Dead in this city full of life. Who knows–maybe we’ll have to go back in the future to pick up that pillowcase!