Agua Azul vendor

Originally uploaded by Pat and Amy’s pics

We bid goodbye to Europe (for now) and headed to Mexico. That we’re in Mexico might come as a surprise to some, since we had been talking for a year about returning to southern Spain to live in the village of Ojen for fall term. Unfortunately, in July, we heard about the Schengen Agreement. The treaty covers most of Europe and requires all signatories to drop their border restrictions within the treaty area, but beef up their border checks with any countries not in the Schengen area. It means that you can get on a train in one country and travel through several others without once showing your passport. But instead of having 90 days in each country (this seems to be the most common time limit for travel without a work or student visa) travellers have 90 days (out of any six month period) in the whole area.

We had spent too much time in the Schengen zone to stay there this fall, so we considered our possibilities. Should we head to Africa? Maybe the Balkans, which isn’t yet in the Schengen zone? Do we take the Siberian Express to Asia and spend a term in Thailand? In the end, Mexico seemed like a good choice because it would let us continue to work on our Spanish while seeing someplace new, and we’d just be that much closer to the States when we head home for the holidays.

We wanted to end up in Guanajuato, so we checked flights to Mexico City (about 4 hours away by bus) and on to Leon/Guanajuato airport but there was always a problem with the arrival time, the layover, the price, or something. We then noticed Guadalajara was just as close to Guanajuato as Mexico City, the prices were just a little better, and the arrival times not too bad. So, after about 20 minutes consideration we bought ticket to Guadalajara, Mexico.

We knew almost nothing about Guadalajara until we got there. It has a population of over a million people, and it turned out to be a great city. We planned to spend three days there, then extended that by four days, and probably would have stayed even longer had we found a good, inexpensive private room somewhere (the only downside of Guadalajara for us was accommodation).

What’s so great about Guadalajara? The food there was outstanding. We’ve since moved on from Guadalajara, and when we mention the food there, people always say it has the reputation for having the best food in Mexico. That’s easy to believe. At Karne Garibaldi, for example, I found myself making yummy noises every second bite. Seriously, I couldn’t stop doing it. If I described the food at most of the restaurants, it would sound pretty much like the Mexican food people are used to in the U.S. because it’s primarily a meat, some beans, and a salsa or pico de gallo, all wrapped in a tortilla (which is almost always a corn tortilla down here, unlike in America where flour is much more common). But it’s just different, trust me. And unlike places in America which always have the same large selection of tacos, burritos, enchiladas, tostadas, etc., some places here only serve one or two things. This is why Karne Garibaldi has the world record (something like 13 seconds) for getting a meal on the table after it’s ordered (the order pretty much consisting of the size plate you want).

It really seems Guadalajara is a very forward-thinking city, too. For several hours on Sundays, many of the main streets are shut down to automobile traffic so people can walk or ride bikes all over town. Because cars are still allowed on the cross-streets, every intersection has one or two people there to hold traffic until there is a break in the pedestrian and bike traffic. I don’t know if the traffic controllers were volunteers or paid, but either way it’s a massive undertaking. The parks department even has free bikes for people to check out if they need them. Many people headed toward the center of the city, which was also shut down to cars, and people filled the streets and shopped at the stalls of hundreds of vendors.

Actually, I could list so many other wonderful qualities about Guadalajara that this posting would fill a couple of pages. For a choice made entirely for its convenience, Guadalajara couldn’t have been a better jumping off point for our time in Mexico. We’ve already discussed that when we come back to Mexico (and we will) we’ll be sure to check on flights to Guadalajara first.